Looking Back: A College Mom’s Perspective

Have you ever wished your future self could come back and speak into your life today?  Wouldn’t it be nice to know what things were going to be a big deal, and what things you were wasting time and energy on?

Today I want to share a really fun interview I did with my good friend Jenny Price.  Jenny is a lover of Jesus, a senior pastor’s wife, a mom of five children, and a leadership and personal development coach.  She now has three AMAZING kids in college.  We had a really fun show where we talked about what advice she would give her young mom self if she could go back in time.

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As promised, here are some of the points to remember, highlights of our conversation, and links to the books and resources we referenced.  But honestly, you just need to listen to the podcast!

  • If you had a time machine and could talk to New Mom Jenny, what would you say?
    • Take care of yourself sooner!  Rest, play, restore your energy!
    • Enjoy it more.
    • Have less expectations of my husband being more than who God is supposed to be.  Don’t make your husband be the spiritual and emotional crutch that only God should be.
    • Rest in your identity in God, stop caring so much about what others think.
    • Great job asking for support from others so you can actually personally be involved in ministry!
  • Listen to Jenny talk about the additional pressures of being a church wife and juggling child care and so many relationships.
  • How a little bit of part time, outside of the work home helped keep sanity.
  • What did you do when you didn’t know what to do?
    • Cry
    • Ask for help
  • What books/philosophies were most helpful for you raising kids?
  • The advantages of a parent centered home vs. a child centered home
  • What felt like a big deal at the time, but now isn’t such a big deal?
    • The pressure to fit in with all the other moms are doing, like Elf on the Shelf, the Pinterest Perfect front porch
    • Pressure feeling like we failed by not having devotions around the dinner table
  • What are ways you modeled faith in your home, so that what was preached from the pulpit matched life in the home?
    • Apologizing to our kids, seeking forgiveness when we failed them
    • Using home to minister to people – housing people who were struggling and needing help, foster and adoption
    • A compassion culture “It’s not about us”
    • Her sibling’s battle with drug addiction
    • Being honest about mental health struggles
  • How do you introduce the topics of sex and finances to your kids so they start really grasping it?
  • The security of knowing that “mom and daddy love each other more than they love you.”

 

Check out at least one of these resources, and be encouraged as you listen to Jenny!  You don’t have to get everything right along the way, God’s grace covers a multitude of parenting mistakes!

Matching Behavior and Consequence

When a child doesn’t know how to do math, we teach them.  When a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach them.  When a child doesn’t know how to behave, we punish them.  What’s wrong with this picture?

This blog is a summary of a fascinating interview I did with my friend Bradley McCallister on the Let’s Parent on Purpose Podcast.  Bradley has a Masters in Christian Counseling and has worked with foster and adoptive parents for five years with Bethany Christian Services as a licensed professional counselor.  Additionally, he and his wife are recent adoptive parents of a special needs teenager from Ethiopia.

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I HIGHLY recommend you actually listen to the podcast, as well as checking out Bradley’s company Redirected Wood Company, which supports his family’s adoptive journey though costume made reclaimed wood projects.

All kids are different, but many parents reading this have children who have been brought into their homes from traumatic backgrounds.  As Bradley states in the interview, researchers have found that with these kids, punishing behavior doesn’t actually get them to change their behavior.  It might encourage them to isolate or get sneakier with it, but not necessarily change it.  Even with kids that have “normal” backgrounds, we must remember that our goal is never to simply get our kids to “stop doing that”.  There’s some behavior we would much rather them do.

There’s no way to give an exhaustive list of behaviors and consequences here.  So I’ll nail down the main principal and then highlight a few examples.

  • Your ultimate goal is to train appropriate behavior in your child.  There’s a spiritual parallel.  In our sanctification process as followers of Jesus, God’s goal for our lives is not that we would simply “stop sinning”.  It’s that we would live righteously, evidenced by our love of God and love of others.  God wants us to put off the old man and put on the new man.  You want your child to put off these unacceptable behaviors and put on appropriate and helpful ones.
  • One of the recurring mistakes we make as parents is to meet unacceptable emotional behavior with unacceptable emotional behavior.  If a child (or teen) is inappropriate in their attitudes, emotions, or level of respect they show us, the LEAST helpful thing we can do is blow up at them, emotionally cut them down, or go over the top with consequences exponentially worse than the crime.  In essence, when we do that we are teaching them that whoever is bigger and stronger gets to physically and emotionally force others to do what they want.  We are training them to blow up on their wives, their kids, their coworkers, and their friends.  (Hey, I am writing this as truth.  And it’s true that I’m guilty.  I’ve got three children within 30 months in age.  I’ve overreacted PLENTY).
  • In general, our standard with unacceptable behavior should be
    1. Swallow your boiling emotions and pray for God’s grace
    2. Call out the unacceptable behavior specifically, explaining why it’s not acceptable and what would be acceptable.
    3. Provide a reality based consequence (example: in the real world if you don’t pay your house payment you get your house repossessed.  In the home if you don’t do your chores you lose your opportunity to go places because work affords us the opportunity to play).
    4. When appropriate provide an opportunity for them to redo the behavior correctly.
    5. Celebrate and affirm the correct behavior.
    6. In all of this, treat them with love and respect, because, in the big picture, this is a more important character trait than perfect performance at tasks.

So what should you do when…

  • Your children are arguing and fighting with one another?
    • Explain how this is unacceptable because everyone in your house is way too valuable to fight with.  Suggest ways they can encourage one another and build each other up.  Since their fighting is causing stress in your life, give them jobs they must do together to receive stress from your life.  They will likely buck and fight, so just keep giving them more consequences to do together until the lightbulb clicks that they get their time and freedom back when they learn to work together.
  • Your child is stealing
    • Stealing is a huge breach of trust.  A matching behavior should match the loss of trust.  For example, rather than being allowed to go out and be with friends, explain “unfortunately, since you are stealing, I’m not able to have you out of my line of sight.  So you’re going to stay here with me and we will have to figure out things for you to do where I’m able to watch you until we can build trust again.”  Or perhaps, the consequence might include selling or giving away some of the child’s possessions to make up for the financial loss of what they stole.
  • Your child is disrespectful towards you.
    • Remember that behavior should make you curious.  If they are young, perhaps they don’t yet know that their behavior is disrespectful.  So you will need to instruct them, give them time to pause and think about it, and then give them an opportunity to try again.
    •  If they are older, perhaps they are modeling the lack of respect that the adults are showing in the home.  If mom and dad are biting and snappy with one another, or with their kids, its natural that you’re going to get that back. Talk to your teens, ask them where the emotions and snappiness are coming from.  Establish that its unacceptable for members of the house to talk to one another that way.  Give them chances to correct, and also begin to withhold privileges (nights out, driving them places, etc.) until they show they can improve.

It’s important to remember that most behaviors don’t happen overnight, and most aren’t going to be fixed the first time you give a consequence (just like your besetting sin issues have taken years to sanctify).  But hold on, stay consistent, and as you train up a child in the way they should go, when they are old, they won’t depart from it. Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before….

For a more in depth analysis of this topic, be sure to check out LPOP 46: Matching Behavior and Consequence.

 

Behavior Should Make us Curious

This is such an important topic!!!  When our kids do some kind of unacceptable behavior, we tend to have the immediate goal of stopping the behavior.  This is like having a weed growing in your sidewalk and just cutting off the top. It’s going to come back.  We need to be concerned about the root cause.

If you don’t normally listen to the Let’s Parent on Purpose Podcast, I highly recommend you check out this week’s special interview with Bradley McCallister.

(Or click on the sidebar for iTunes, etc.)

My good friend and Christian Counselor Bradley McCallister has served as an adoptive counselor with Bethany Christian Services for the past five years.  He and his wife Brittany also recently adopted a 13 year old son from Ethiopia.  29 years old, and now the parent of a teenager from a different country.  Bradly has his Masters in counseling, but he’s getting his PhD. in life experience!  He and his wife have also started a business of making beautiful furniture and artwork out of reclaimed pieces of wood in order to spend more time with their son.  Check out their showroom and support them at www.redirectedwoodco.com.

Here are the highlights from our conversation:

  • When our kids do some kind of unacceptable behavior, we tend to have the immediate goal of stopping the behavior.  This is like having a weed growing in your sidewalk and just cutting off the top. It’s going to come back.  We need to be concerned about the root cause.
  • All behavior has a motivation.  We need to be curious as to why they are exhibiting this behavior.
    • We want to ask ourselves “why are they doing this?”  “what are they getting out of this behavior?”
    • In some circumstances we can ask them “why”?  But sometimes they might not be able to verbalize it or fully understand themselves.  As they get older, sometimes they might know the reasons why but feel ashamed, embarrassed, or fearful of explaining why.
    • The vast majority of unacceptable behaviors have the root of fear and sadness.
  • When dealing with unacceptable behaviors, we want to remember that our emotion is ONE tool in the toolbox.  It’s like a hammer.  Sometimes a job calls for a hammer.  But sometimes it calls for a screwdriver or wrench or pliers.  If you use a hammer for the wrong jobs, you do a lot of damage.
    • As exasperating as behaviors are, we need to work hard to swallow our emotions, deal with they symptoms, and get at the roots.  Our reactions train our children.  If we are dramatic, exasperated, and emotional every time something doesn’t go our way (like their behavior), we are training them that emotional tidal waves are the natural way to deal with life’s struggles.
    • When we respond with anger and exasperation, we also train them to keep secrets.
    • Again, sometimes our emotions can be powerfully effective, but other times they really get in the way of discovery and resolution of the root cause.
  • Discovery can be a process.  Sometimes you’re not going to be able to figure it out in the moment.  With boys especially, face to face conversations might not work.  Go on a drive together, throw a football, play a video game with each other.  As you’re doing something together, side by side, talk about the issue.  You might get much better feedback if they don’t have to look at you.
  • None of this excuses the behavior or negates the presence of sin.  But Jesus can be a model for us as he dealt with sinners.  With the woman at the well, Jesus didn’t come out of the gate chastising her immoral lifestyle.  He worked to built trust, openness, a ready heart to listen.  This doesn’t mean that at any time he was OK with her having five husbands or living with a man.  He simply drew out the conversation long enough to get at the deeper heart need.
  • Sometimes you might have to indulge behaviors (not sinful behaviors) to see where it goes.
    •  For instance, if you have a child who is insisting on baby talk far beyond an acceptable age, you don’t just want them to stop.  You want to understand what’s motivating them to do this.  You might try going along with it, treating them like a baby for a little bit.  Sometimes this is enough to get them to come out of it.  (I know, it sounds exasperating to me too).
    • Another example would be a teen that wants to dress sloppily, darkly, etc.  If they’re not dressing immorally, try going along with it for some time, resisting the urge to tell them “you look terrible,” “you’re not showing that you respect yourself”, or “you’re embarrassing me.”  Remember, they’re dressing that way for a reason.  If you can get past your initial resistance, you might create a safe space for them to open up to you on why they feel compelled to dress in that particular way.  Then you get to work on affirming what’s good in them and coaching them out of it.
  • Sometimes the bad behavior is exhibited because we don’t really pay attention and affirm good behavior.  Especially in homes with multiple kids, the well behaved chid can get overlooked.  To a kid, negative attention is still attention.  Proactively affirm the simple, normal, good things they do.  This might solve a lot of the problem.

This stuff is hard work, but it’s good work.  It’s what we signed up to do by bringing children into the world.  Work this week on discovering the “why” behind behaviors.  Listen to the podcast.  And next week, come back to hear part 2: Matching Behavior and Consequences.

Don’t forget, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

Relatives + Holidays = Why do we do this?

We’re entering the season filled with awe, wonder, gratitude, and dread.  It’s that time of year where we get to spend time with family we love.

Sometimes, we get to spend time with family who are easier to love at a distance.

Let’s be honest, just because we grew up together doesn’t mean we now have the same worldview, parenting styles, standards, goals, or aspirations.   And sometimes we love every member of our family, and are mostly on the same page as them, but it’s just overwhelming when they all get together at once.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are wonderful.  But sometimes they are really, really hard.  Here’s a handy little guide that won’t solve your problems, but might diminish some of the stress and anxiety surrounding the Most Wonderful(ly Chaotic) Time of the Year

  1. Release yourself from the guilt of thinking you’re going to please everybody.  Because you won’t. If you not bending to their every whim ruins their holidays, that’s on them, not you.
  2. Stop sabotaging the peace of all of the days leading up to your family gathering.  This is one of those that’s so strange to me.  Most of our giant family gatherings are just a few hours, some last up to a few days.  But people spend weeks or even months of stress living in anticipation of those days.  Stop.  You’re not there yet, stop emotionally going there.  The anticipation is often so much worse than any event.  Don’t make a one difficult experience cast a shadow on an entire season.
  3. Make a plan.  Aim to stick with your plan.  Walk in grace when you cannot stick to your plan.  Our experiences are so different, it’s impossible for me to give you a plan here that will cover every scenario.  But some questions that are helpful to answer in advance might include “how am I going to calendar these next few weeks with enough margin to not run ragged?” “How am I going to coach my children for some of the unsavory experiences they might encounter with our extended family?”  “Knowing that I do not trust this particular person in my family, how am I going to make sure that my children are not left in vulnerable situations with them?” “How am I going to redirect conversations with grace when they go down gossipy or destructive pathways?”  “How am I going to lovingly hold my boundaries when this particular family member tries to guilt or manipulate me?” “How am I going to love and support my spouse as they navigate the different people in their family?”
  4. Intentionally instill a time of personal worship and gratitude, for you and your immediate family.   In the book of Isaiah, there’s a mention of how the Lord gives us a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  Thanksgiving through Christmas should be one of the easiest times of year to be thankful.  Spend daily time, above and beyond your normal time, being thankful.  Let God lift your spirits.
  5. Don’t miss the teaching and training opportunities in your own family.  Kids are way more perceptive than we wish they were.  Take advantage of it.  Have honest conversations (without gossip or disparaging) with some of the struggles you’ve had in your family before.  Teach them how you’ve tried to love and also live in boundaries.  Talk about your hopes and aspirations that your kids will get things right that you did not, and offer ways you think might have made the difference growing up if you could do it again.  Affirm their feelings if they don’t like some of their cousins.  Coach them on how to show love to hard people.
  6. Don’t go to your gatherings to “just get through them”, go seeking to be an instrument of grace.  If you have a purpose and a mission, even painful things are more endurable.  The holidays may not be the best time to air all of the family’s dirty laundry, but they should be a time for showing love, concern, and living like your family members were created in the image of God.
  7. Bring your other family members in as best as you can on the plan.  If it’s dreadful for you, likely it’s dreadful for other family members.  Since you have some time, start talking about how you might intentionally make the time more meaningful as you’re together.  Maybe each family can put together a little photo video project of what happened over the last year.  Maybe you can plan a service project together.  Maybe as a family you can adopt a family in need and work together to provide for them.
  8. Think of ways you can be “others first” without feeling resentful and manipulated.  Let’s say, for instance, that being together with the entire extended family raises your anxiety through the roof.  Perhaps you can be honest with them about that, and then schedule two or three meetings with portions of your family during that time.  Or perhaps you and your family could work on some kind of “Family Memory Project” for everyone to work on as you’re together.  Make slips of paper, asking provoking questions that will bring encouraging conversations.  Have everyone write notes of appreciation to one another.  Take your nervous energy, go on Pinterest, find a creative plan together.
  9. Don’t add to your spouse’s stress by guilting them over their family.  Your spouse didn’t choose their family.  But they did choose you.  Don’t make them regret their choice.  Just kidding.  But seriously, Philippians 2:14 says “do all thing without grumbling or complaining.”  I’m pretty sure being with your spouse’s relatives is included in “all things”.  If you’re guilty of this one, repent and apologize!
  10. Pray for your family!  Don’t just pray you can endure them, pray God’s lavish blessings on them and your time together.  Pray they could see the goodness of Jesus in you and your kids.

No family is perfect.  Every family needs grace.  And most likely, you’re the cause of other family members’ anxiety too!  Love well, be intentional, and have hope.

It will be January before you know it!

Should I keep my kid out of church as a consequence?

Is it wrong to pull your child out of church as a consequence?

I’ve been asked two different questions that both center around the idea of keeping a child out of church or church activities.  Both are actually important questions, and come from different circumstances.  But the ultimate conclusion is similar, so I’ll try to grapple with both of them today.

Scenario 1: My child either didn’t do something they were supposed to, or the did something they weren’t supposed to.  They actually love coming to church (mostly because of friends) and I feel like grounding them from church as a consequence.  But I feel like a terrible parent for doing this.  What’s the right thing to do?

Let me begin by saying that I’m replying in general, and each specific situation is different.  But I’ve been thinking about this question for twenty years, and have been all over the place.  Here’s where I am today:

I’m a youth pastor and a parent.  As a youth pastor, I want all of “my kids” to be in all of our church meetings all of the time.  I know that the best discipleship happens over a long period of time with lots of reps together, not just in worship meetings but in life-on-life activities.  As a parent, I know that some of my kids would LOVE to skip church and some of them would take it as the worst punishment I can give them.  First, for the children who don’t really want to go in the first place (social anxiety, rather sleep in, lack of spiritual interest) I don’t want to give them a reward for poor behavior.  For the ones that really love to go, I want to be wise in the Lord.  So perhaps I let them go, but they have to sit with me instead of going to youth (pretend I’m not the youth pastor), or perhaps they must volunteer to serve with kids for a while, or perhaps they don’t get to go to the “fun” activities but are still allowed to go to the primary worship and discipleship meetings.  If they are getting into trouble with another child in the church, I want to be extra careful to set up boundaries or cut off access to their partners in crime.

Through all of this, my dilemma is that I want to remove them from them from environments that seem like a reward so that they feel the sting of what they are doing, but I also want to be very careful not to pull them out of what is hopefully the most encouraging spiritual and character enrichment time of their week.

So, in the realm of using church as a consequence, I’d say there are times and places for it (as a pastor I have occasionally banned kids from coming to certain activities for a period of time because of dangerous or rebellious behavior).  Trips, camps, retreats, and overnights are a privilege, not a right.  But I think those times should be rare, limited, and thought out in the council of other shepherds in their lives.

Scenario 2: My child is overwhelmed at school or is a slower learner than others.  They just really need to spend more time focusing on their schoolwork.  Should we prioritize school over youth and church activities?

This is a hard question and perhaps a little more challenging.  “Overwhelmed” and “slow learner” can mean SO MANY different things to different people.  Let me start by 1) affirming your predicament.  I’ve got at least one child that takes all kinds of special help to learn even basic concepts.  But I also want to 2) encourage you to not feel sorry for your child.  Don’t give them permission to play the victim or moan and cry because things are harder for them.  Every single one of us will have to face life scenarios that are harder for us than other people.  Perhaps school is your child’s scenario.  Instead of letting it because an excuse, learn to look at it as a tool.  So they’re going to have to work hard.  That’s a gift from the Lord, which will prepare them for life much better than if everything came easy.  It’s the super smart ones who often give up too easily when they finally hit a brick wall.

So, should you prioritize school over youth and church activities?  Let me offer another suggestion:

  • Prioritize time and task management.  If your child is a slower learner, they’re going to need to be a better scheduler their entire life.  Now is a great time to start.  Learn to sit down on Sunday evening and make a schedule for the week, blocking out what needs to be done and when it can be done.  Or, learn to get together Friday after school and spend 20 minutes with your child going through what homework assignments need to happen.  There is RARELY a time when your child legitimately CANNOT make it to church on Sunday because of homework.  It’s usually because they were doing too many other things on Friday and Saturday.  Maybe you can’t stay for both services, but with a little bit of advanced scheduling there’s almost always time for one.  If there are special youth activities coming up in the future, help them learn to look ahead and plan in advance.
  • Prioritize margin.  If your child takes longer to do things, perhaps you should help them pick just a couple of things and do them well, instead of encouraging them to be involved in 5-10 different activities that are going to pull them in so many directions.  If the school load is heavy, perhaps they get to choose ONE extracurricular activity.  This might help them to have quality experiences instead of running ragged.  Don’t transfer your own FOMO onto your kids.  They’re going to miss out on FAR more activities in life than they can do.  Encourage them to pick a few and truly BE THERE.
  • Midweek services may be too much.  I get it.  Kids are busy and loaded.  There’s not a ton of time after school to get work done before the midweek services.  This is part of why our church switched our primary youth service to Sundays.  Don’t live in guilt.  Kids can’t be everywhere and do everything. Living in guilt doesn’t enhance your spiritual standing with Jesus.

And Finally…

The concluding thought I have is just the encouragement that YOU are the primary shepherds of your children, not your youth pastor or your church.  If you can’t “make it to church” for some reason, BE the church together.  Don’t use this as an excuse to skip your church’s services all the time, but if some life circumstance prevents you or your kids from attending, remember that we are a Kingdom of Priests!  Spend time together in worship, fellowship, prayer, and sharing the word.  You can do it, God will be with you!

Keep filling your parenting love bank!

Last week I shared a really important concept called The Love Bank.  While the concept holds true in every significant relationship in your life, it is especially critical for husbands and wives.

The same premise is echoed in your parent-child relationships.  I want to share a few specific thoughts on how the premise of the love bank works with parents and children.  But first, here are a few ideas that will lay the groundwork for the best application of the Love Bank principle in parenting;

  • As a quick reminder, the premise is this: there exist a sort of “love bank” between us and others we interact with on a regular basis.  Every interaction is either making a deposit or withdrawal into that love bank.  When there begin to be more withdrawals than deposits, distance, bitterness, and broken relationships are sure to follow.
  • The highest ideal of Biblical love is Agape love.  This is the self sacrificing, unconditional love Christ demonstrates for us, and which we are called to demonstrate with one another.  In terms of Agape love, it seems absurd to say that that our selfless, unconditional love for one another is dependent on our positive and negative interactions.  So maybe “Love” isn’t the best word.  Perhaps the “Affection Bank” is more accurate.  But that sounds a bit awkward, so we are sticking with “Love”.
  • Most parents would probably say something like “I will always love my kids, no matter what.”  But the reality is that our affection and delight in our kids is very much based on our experiences with them.  You can love someone who grieves you, someone you don’t particularly want to be around.
  • Christ calls me to love everyone.  And I want to be like Jesus.  But I know that my love is not as patient as His, not as kind, and not as steady.  Knowing I have a long way to go, I want to intentionally build affection for my kids, so that I more readily love them as Christ calls me to.

Ephesians 6:1-3 tells children to obey their parents and to honor their Fathers and Mothers.  Ephesians 6:4 charges fathers to not exasperate their children.  Mothers get a free pass apparently (kidding).  There are dozens of principles to pull out of Ephesians 6:1-4, but one relevant one today is that relationships are a two way street.

Like it or not, you have a love bank with each of your kids.  And your kids each have a love bank with you. Affection, fondness, and happy experiences together are like the grease that keeps the “machine” of family moving.

Some of those reading this have super easy kids.  This might be the most natural thing in the world in your family.  If so, praise the Lord. But others of us have a hard kid, or several hard kids.  Here are some specific thoughts that should help both you and your kids keep healthy love bank accounts.  Note-this is all directed at parents.  I don’t expect children to read parenting websites!

  • Pray for your kids.  Intentionally spend time praying prayers of thanks for them.  Pray details of thankfulness to God for specific traits you love.  If you praise God for your kids, it should be easier to praise your kids.
  • Aim for a 5-1 rule at a minimum.  For every piece of correction you need to do, find five different ways to praise them.  This doesn’t mean that at the time of correction you need to stop and give them five different praises.  It means that the pattern of your interaction with them is that you are LOOKING for things to praise.  It also means you are going to be more judicious in correcting.  You can’t correct everything all at once.  You’ll crush their spirits.  My suggestion is to pick easy wins (things they can easily correct and receive praise) or stick with the vital stuff that feels like it will invoke long term harm if not addressed.  Everything else has time.  What’s an example?  Let them dress sloppy if you’re content enough with how they are covering the important body parts.
  • Own up to your errors.  If you play the role of Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, you’ll train them to not admit fault either.  Humble yourself and apologize when you can.
  • Do things together.  Make effort to find things that you both like to do, spend time doing them.  Sometimes you’ll have meaningful talks along the way.  Sometimes you’re just building a reservoir of fond experiences.
  • Ignore junk behavior.  This is different at every stage of life, but not every behavior needs to be corrected every time.  Let them breathe, figure things out.  If, while they are young, they see that everything they do sets you off, you’ve given them a weapon to manipulate as you get older.
  • Finally, the bigger the trouble they are in, the more exasperated you are, the less you want to see them.. at these times it’s most critical to make extra effort to plan positive experiences together.  You’re mirroring Jesus by showing unconditional love, and you’re filling both of your love banks by focusing on something other than their failures.

We’ve got kids at so many stages of life, with so many issues.  I know this is fairly general.  I’d love to hear from you.  What are some of the ways that YOU help fill the love bank with your children?

The Love Bank

How is your bank account doing?

I’m not talking about your financial well-being, I’m talking about your love bank.  If you’ve never heard of the love bank, it was one of the most important concepts I learned from His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage.  This is a fantastic marriage book by William F Harley Jr., and the concept of the Love Bank (which I sometimes refer to as the Love Tank) has been one of the most helpful relationship tools I’ve learned.

Here it is in a nutshell:

With every person you interact with, you develop an internal emotional Love Bank.  Each interaction you have with them either adds despots to your bank account or else exact withdrawals.  Over time, your feelings for a person tend to reflect the number of deposits and withdrawals you have had with them.  If most of your interactions are more positive, you will enjoy that person and seek to be around them.  You’ll also be able to recover more quickly when they do things that bother you.  On the other hand, if your time with them is marked by conflict, turmoil, or other negative emotions, you can start to run a deficit in your love bank.  In these relationships, not only do you seek to avoid them, but even minor annoyances become more amplified because your bank, or tank, is nearly empty.  There’s a sense in which you have sets of Love Banks with each person that’s regularly a part of your life.  Sometimes, if a relationship is particularly costly, it might even draw from your reserves in other relationships.  Conversely, our accounts can be so high accounts with some people that it gives us extra riches to spend on more demanding relationships.

As I write this, it feels so simple.  Why waste time talking about the obvious?

Because the application in our lives can be profound.

Let’s start with a romantic relationship.  You meet someone.  They’re attractive.  Deposit.  They’re nice.  Deposit.  They smell good and have similar interest as you.  Deposit.  You find out they like you.  Super deposit.  In the early stages of your relationship, you tend to have limited time together, and when you do there’s a great deal of intentionality.  You’re making so many deposits into one another, you’re slowly growing your reserves to healthy levels.  The deposits are so great, you easily brush off the withdrawals for conflict and disappointments.  This can happen through the wedding, honeymoon, and happily into your matrimoney.

But something interesting shifts when you are married.  You still have plenty of opportunities to make deposits.  But you’re around one another more, you live in the same space, you share bills and budgets.  You have to visit one another families.  The level of deposits can start to level off because of the relational withdrawals.  Kids arrive.  They are attention monsters.  You start to only have fumes for your spouse.  A date night seems impossible.  There’s job stress.  Someone is chronically sick.  You’ve got a special needs child.

And just like that, you find yourself in a relationship that is now requiring more withdrawals than it is returning with deposits.  As time goes on, without really ever noticing it, your love bank can dwindle.  It’s not that you dislike that person any more.  It’s just that you seem different, and the relationship isn’t so enjoyable.

In my opinion, this is where the vulnerability for affairs really kicks in.  In your married relationship you’ve tipped towards more withdrawals than deposits, and then you meet someone new.  You don’t know everything about them, you don’t share bills with them, you don’t smell their bad breath in the morning.  They’re nice to you. They compliment you.  They appreciate little things you’ve done at work or in some other context.  Your love bank grows.

Whether you actually follow through with an affair or not, you’re in a very dangerous spot in your marriage.  Without change in direction, at best you’re looking at a bitter  marriage where two people effective endure as housemates.  Or, you’re heading towards the ripping of flesh, the deviation and destruction of divorce.

If you’re starting to feel like your love bank is running low or even in the red in your marriage, please take these two steps:

  • Acknowledge: You need to have an open, honest, responsible conversation with your spouse.  Explain to them that you feel like you’re in a cycle where the normal demands of life are making too many withdrawals in your relationship, and that you love them, care too much about them to do nothing.  You don’t have to blame  them, don’t have to accuse them.  You don’t have to bring up a laundry list of hurts.  Likely, you both know that something is wrong.  Sometimes it just takes courage to admit it.
  • Invest: Just like with finances, people don’t generally get into debt in a day, and you don’t get out of debt in a day.  Even if you win the lottery and pay off all of your debts, if you don’t change your life habits, it’s only a matter of time before you’re in the same spot.  So it is with investing in your relationship.  Sure, go for the “lottery” of the big, special, romantic weekend.  But if you don’t change your daily and weekly habits, your Love Banks will be erratic and a you will live on the brink of marital disaster.  Here are some regular, relatively easy investments that you can do at nearly any stage of life.
    • Set aside 15 minutes a day with no phones or technology to share about one another’s day.  Listen.  Ask questions.  Encourage.  Don’t dump your entire load or think you can fix all of those.  But be diligent to have this time each at a minimum.  And if you say you cannot find 15 minutes at any point of the day for one another… try again.
    • Write small notes to each other.  Hide them in places you know they will find. It’s not that hard.  But it goes so far.
    • Schedule a date night.  Or a date morning.  Or a date lunch.  Aim for it to be weekly.  If your broke, have a date in your bedroom after the kids go to bed.
    • Say “I love you” and give hugs like you’re giving out gold.  Because you are.

Start with that.  If you get those simple steps down, you’ll likely figure out the rest on our own anyway.

You’ll notice I didn’t give “Pray” or “Read Your Bible” as a step.  I also didn’t give “Eat breakfast” or “Brush your teeth” as a step.  You should do all of these things.

You were made in the image of God, and He calls you to unconditional love.  But you’re also a person with emotions and feelings that are often frail.  Unconditional love is hard work.  Recovering from a divorce or affair is exponentially harder.

So get to work!

Real Families Are Messy

Whenever I start feeling bad about my job as a husband or father, I find it helpful to go to the Bible.  I don’t go for the inspirational quotes.  I go to be encouraged, those families are way more dysfunctional than mine!

The Bible is a holy book filled with unholy people who often live embarrassing family lives.  I used to wish I could be one of those heroic Bible characters, but now I’m pretty thankful I can just read about them.  God seems to delight in telling the parts of the family story that we like to leave out of our Facebook and Instagram posts.

Do you feel guilty for failing to have regular family devotions?  Ever blown your temper in front of your kids?  Have you felt the sting of past mistakes coming back to bite your family years down the road?Has addiction to substance, sex, or soul food left you feeling ashamed to try to encourage your children to any righteous standard?

Check out this short list of lowlights from our Sunday School heroes:

  • Abraham married his sister.  Then lied about her being his wife.  Then slept with another woman to get a son.
  • Isaac’s favoritism led to fraud, deceit, and near murder between his sons.
  • Jacob raised such dysfunctional boys, they sold their brother Joseph into slavery.
  • Judah slept with his dead son’s wife, who was posing as a prostitute.
  • David committed adultery and murdered someone.
  • One of David’s sons raped his sister.  Another of David’s sons killed his brother. That same son created a literal civil war against David.

These guys were so messed up, if they were alive today they’d be the top rated reality show on TV.

At the same time, these same family members are our spiritual heroes.  Their families changed the world.  Or more importantly, God changed the world through their families.

We’ve been going through a series with our church called “Messy Faith”, based off of Proverbs 14:4

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

If you want a picture perfect stable, don’t have any animals.  But if you want to be useful and productive, you’re going to live in a mess.

Real families are always in the midst of some kind of mess.  One kid might be telling their friends about Jesus.  The other is failing algebra.  Or maybe it’s the same kid.

You finally manage to get the whole family around the dinner table for a cooked meal. You have visions of meaningful conversations.  Your kids have a burping contest and complain about imaginary lines being crossed.

You save up money for date night, bathe, shave, and put on smelly-good product.  Then your youngest starts puking.

You manage to actually get your kids to church on time.  But they forgot to bring their Bibles.  Or their shoes.  Again.  And you’re one of the pastors.

Lest you be fooled by social media and television, real family life is messy.  Stop agonizing over the mess.

Your house is going to be dirty.

You’re going to go to McDonalds because 20 chicken nuggets for $5 is way more convenient than free range tofu on a bed of greens.

You’re going to be mortified at your kids habits, and discouraged that you can’t figure out any way to train them out of those habits.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s going to happen,  because you know that it is happening.  I can promise you that it will keep happening.  Family life is messy.

But it’s worth it.  You’re building little humans.  Your shaping character (yours and theirs).  In the midst of the mess, you’re getting opportunities to instill things that can never be taught in a classroom.

And if you’ve been so bold as a family to step out in faith, to try to use your family for the sake of others, it’s going to be even more messy.  People are complicated, broken, unpredictable.

And they’re also the only things on this planet made in the image of God.  They are so, so worth it.

Let me encourage you today to free yourself from the expectation that you’ll ever have your household under control.  There’s always going to be something, probably lots of things, that are out of wack.  Stop fretting, stop wishing away the mess.  Just live in it, enjoy it, and take pleasure in the joy that God put you where you are to bring a little bit of order to one chaotic corner of the world.

One final thought: stop coveting someone else’s mess.  Maybe you feel like you’ve been given a particularly unfair load, that the trails and chaos of this world aren’t evenly distributed and that life would just be easier if you had someone else’s load.  Who knows, maybe you’re right.  But it really doesn’t matter, because God has placed you in YOUR life, to lean on Him, depend on Him, find Him in the mess, and look to Him for rest.

If you’re in Christ, you’re built for eternity, and it won’t always be like this.  Stop wishing away the mess and enjoy the grace that comes with it.

Your manger may be dirty, but there’s a crop in the ground, and harvest time is coming soon!

Technology Slaves

Be honest, are you in control of the technology in your home, or does it control you?

I recently read a book by Andy Crouch called the The Tech-Wise Family.  I was anticipating a guide warning me about the dangers of this website or that ap.  Instead I got a soul-convicting call to lead my family out of the slavery of the “Everything Everywhere Always” culture.

I highly recommend Crouch’s book.  It’s short, convicting, and offers some tangible steps to putting technology in its proper place.  At the same time, he’s honest about the fact that he doesn’t meet his own standards with perfect consistency.  Here’s a quick overview of the book  If my summary intrigues you even a little, I recommend you pick it up.

  • The primary place to develop wisdom and courage is in the family.  In reality, technology doesn’t truly help us do either of those things.  The deluge of mobile technology often does the opposite.
  • The model for life given to man in the Bible is work-rest.  The pattern of our current lives is more like toil-leisure.  Mobile phones and computing have “saved us work” but allowed work to follow us anywhere.  At the same time, our attention seeking devices are good at entertaining us but not at giving us soul-restoring rest.  Combine these, and it’s no wonder we stay stressed and anxious.
  • To help his family try to live as flourishing human beings, rather than units of productivity or mind-numbed monkeys to be entertained, they have developed Ten Tech-Wise Commandments for their family.
    1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
    2. We want to create more than we consume.  So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
    3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest.  So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
    4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
    5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” in our home.
    6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly, and alone.
    7. Car time is conversation time.
    8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
    9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
    10. We show up in person for the big events of life.  We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

I am going to explore some of these commandments further over time.  Today I wanted to give you an overview and challenge you to put this book on your reading list.  I’m sure some of the commandments feel drastic or even abrasive to you at first glance.  But is there at least one you can focus on that might really enhance the quality of your family life?  Be bold.  Give it a try!

And read the book!

I’d love to hear your comments on which point or commandment intrigues you the most.

The Grief Monster

Late this summer, my family’s world was rocked as my Aunt Sue died suddenly of a massive heart attack.  Within hours, whatever plans for the day had been forgotten.  My parents quickly packed and headed up the road.  I scrambled to find plane tickets for my family and a sitter for our dog.  In just a few short days, friends and family from a thousand mile radius had gathered together to cry, laugh, sing, pray, and say our goodbyes.  My sweet aunt, a fixture of my childhood and the chief conspirer to slip mayonnaise into my grilled cheese sandwiches, went to be with Jesus on a Saturday and had her body laid to rest on a Wednesday.  I love her, I miss her, and I cannot believe how quickly everything happened.

The speed with which death can intrude on our pleasant lives is astonishing.

The speed with which people can arrange and pull off a funeral service is admirable.

The speed with which a soul can heal from such a loss is agonizing.

The first few days after the loss of a loved one are so filled with shock, traveling, planning, visiting, and short term decision making, it’s very rare to have more than a few moments of quiet to contemplate the new reality.

And then everyone leaves, goes back to their normal lives, and those closest to the person who passed away try to “get back to life” while managing their new normal.  In our world filled with speed and machines, the pace of nearly everything in life has rapidly increased. But the pace of grieving and healing cannot be helped by technology.  If anything, our modern culture makes it much harder.

What I’ve learned about grief

For the average American, I’ve experienced a remarkably high amount of trials and loss in the last couple of decades.  It’s given me lots of opportunity to think about how our culture deals with, or rather doesn’t deal with, pain, suffering, and death.  For instance, I’ve gone through a lot in comparison to other middle class Americans.  But I’ve still been remarkably sheltered compared to your average Indian, African, Russian, or anyone who lived before the last 75 years.  From my limited perspective, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Death and suffering are a normal part of life for most people in the world.  Not the American emotional  suffering of “fear that I won’t maximize my potential”.  More like the suffering that “one or several of my children might die before me”, “we might not have food today”, or “political or natural disaster might destroy everything we have”.
  • Because death and suffering aren’t as normal to us, we tend to assume that we should be able to get over it like we would a bad case of the flu or a bout of chicken pox.  Take a couple of weeks, deal with it, and then get back to life.  If we talked one on one with others, we know this isn’t reality.  But it seems to be the pace of the cultural expectations we live in.
  • By contrast, even the faithful, God-believing communities found in the Bible stopped life and seriously grieved their lossed loved ones.  They had morning periods of 40, sometimes 80 days.  They wore widows clothing and mourned.  Their friends and family joined them.  It gave their souls time to heal, or at least advance the healing.
  • I think that we’ve really lost something in our modern culture when it comes to grieving and mourning.  It’s almost like we feel guilty for feeling sad for too long.  Especially Christians.  If they’re not suffering any more, if they truly are in a better place, if I really believe that they are alive and with Jesus, am I being sinful and selfish by wishing they were with back with me?  To that, I will give you this example: If my son decides to move to Hawaii, live on the beach with a gorgeous mountain as a backdrop, and gets a great job making $1 million a year, I’m going to be thrilled for him. But I’ll also daily miss his presence.  I’ll be really happy for him and really sad too.  It’s not an either-or game.  It’s both-and.

Enter the Grief Monster

When I was in my 20’s and healing from the loss of my wife, I remember a couple of different people explaining the grief process to me in really helpful terms.  When I combine their words together, I get a really helpful model of how to walk through the valley:

Whether it’s a death, a broken relationship, a major sickness of a loved one, or some other deep sense of loss, you can expect multiple visits form the Grief Monster.

The Grief Monster doesn’t schedule times to visit you, it just shows up unannounced.  You can have a full day planned, and suddenly you hear this knocking on the door of your soul.  You know who it is, but you have so many other things that you’d rather do.  So you ignore it.  Sometimes the knocking goes away, but often it just continues.  Persistent.  Louder.  Disturbing every relationship, every activity that you have.  What can you do to stop this incessant knocking?

Open the door.

Let the Grief Monster in.  Stop what you’re doing, pull up a chair, and sit with the Grief Monster.  Cry.  Mourn.  Feel lonely and lost, even if you know that ultimately God will work all of this for Good.  Remember that Jesus wept at a funeral just minutes before raising the dead.  Just grieve.

If you’ll do this, you learn that the Grief Monster doesn’t really want to stay forever.  He’ll get up and leave.  Sure, he will come back, but he will leave off the incessant knocking.

If you’ll just give the Grief Monster the proper attention when he comes, Grief actually becomes a healing force instead of a looming shadow in your life.

The world will one day be made new.  But it’s not new yet.  As the children of God, we acknowledge the sorrow of today even as we look for the hope of tomorrow.

Live.  Love.  Grieve.  Be free.

Gritty Parents

For the past several months, I’ve been wrestling through a concept that I know is incredibly important, but I’ve struggled with how I might teach it to my children (and a lot of your children).  How can I teach them to grow in Grit?

Grit, as defined by Angela Duckworth PhD. and author of the book by the same name, is “passion and perseverance in pursuing a future goal over a very long period of time”.   Through years of research into trying to discover why some people fail and some people succeed, Duckworth found out that Grit was often the key ingredient.  Duckworth was a good example herself.  Not known as an exceptionally intelligent child, she exhibited rugged determination with her studies to the point where she won a MaCarthur Fellowship-otherwise known as “the genius scholarship” as an adult.

I’m not going to overwhelm you with the details of her book, which I highly recommend.  But I do want to point out one eye popping revelation I learned, give you some Biblical foundation for the subject, and then  tie that in to what it should mean to you as a parent.

What stood out most to me from the Grit was Duckworth’s “Formula for Success”.  Simply put:

Talent X Effort = Skill

Skill X Effort = Achievement

What this means:  Natural talent truly is a thing.  And we tend to be fascinated by it as a society.  In every area you can imagine, some are born with a more natural aptitude for “getting it”.  You see it in athletes, academics, and artists.  You have no control over your inborn talent.

Effort, on the other hand, is entirely in your control.  And Effort isn’t just twice as important as Talent, it’s exponentially more important!

Take, for example, a person who has a natural talent of 5 but gives an effort of 2.  5X2 = 10, then 10X2=20.  Their achievement would be on the level of 20.

Another person has a natural talent of 1 but an effort of 5.  1X5=5, then 5×5=25.  This was an extreme example of talent differences, but even then, the one with who put long term effort into their skill achieved more over the long run.

What does this have to do with faith and parenting?

One of the overarching  storylines of the Bible is the  what gritty faith does over the long haul.  Abraham is a pagan idol worshipper who starts holding on to the promises of God, and becomes the father of nations.  Moses is a refugee with a speech impediment who is used by God to deliver a nation and teach them the Way.  Joseph is a slave and a prisoner who doesn’t let go of his faith and becomes ruler of Egypt and savior of his people.  Ruth perseveres through famine and a dead husband to follow God and become the great grandmother of King David.  And Jesus… “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,” and saved our very souls.  This isn’t just a secular idea.  It’s on page after page of the Holy Book.

Two Bible words speak to me of grit.

The first is “steadfast”.  It has the idea of being steady, firm.

 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  (1 Corinthians 15:58)

We are steadfast because we will not always be like this.  Jesus is coming back and will transform our mortal, sinful, dying bodies into glorious immortality.  This gives us the grit to passionately abound in the work of the Lord.  It’s not in vain.

The other word is “endurance”.  Its the power to withstand hardship or stress.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We endure because we have the saints before us as an example, Jesus as our goal, and the reminder that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

I started researching grit with the idea that I might figure out how to teach it to my kids.  I ended up convicted that I need to grow in grit myself.

Mom, Dad, ask the Lord for grit.  Ask Him for Passion and Perseverance over the length of your life.  Ask Him to shape you into the kind of parent who doesn’t know what to do but keeps trying.  Ask Him to help you be the example in your home.  May you be the one who doesn’t let your family upbringing, your natural talents, your spiritual past, or your current family crisis keep you from passionately pursuing the vision of a faith-soaked family that God will use to change the world.

Fail.  Then learn.  Then try again.

You have a Bible full of overcoming saints as examples.  You have the promise that one day you will be completely transformed by Jesus.  You have the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.  His Word.  His Love. His family.  You have enough.

May you grow in grit.

Note – I’m very thankful for this article by Jon Bloom for helping me see the connection between the Biblical and Secular ideas of Grit.  You should read it!

 

Conflict Without Catastrophe

The only real problem I have with people is that they don’t do exactly what I want when I want them to do it.  My kids, being little people, are often guilty of this as well.  Between their sin nature and my sin nature, there’s plenty of opportunity for conflict in our home.

Conflict doesn’t have to be catastrophic.  Family is the primary environment to develop wisdom and character.  Done well, we will become courageous people who thrive in most situations.  Done poorly, our family members can be crippled for life, passive doormats or overbearing tyrants who poorly reflect the image of God in a broken world.

Since you’re going to have conflict, you should have a strategy for conflict.  These principles are vital to your marriage as well as your parenting.  As a bonus, it turns out that these same strategies are helpful in the rest of your relationships as well!

  • Always remember that there are two narratives in conflict.  One narrative is about the actual subject, the other is about how we value the people involved.  Your goal should be to understand and be understood as you resolve the conflict.  If your goal is to win, you’ve already lost the more important narrative, the one where you say “you’re more important to me than this issue.”
  • Fight fair.  As a young married man, after being in a ridiculous fight with my spouse about something I now can’t recall, a wise older man took me for a ride on his motorcycle. Over hot dogs, he proceeded to remind me of these points I forgot from premarital counseling:
    • NEVER use the words “always” or “never”.  Nobody “always” does something and nobody “never” does something.  When you use these words, you throw gasoline on the conflict and you are attacking their character, not their actions.
    • Stick to the subject.  If you’re cornered and feel like someone just got a point over you, don’t grab some other fault of theirs and bring it into the argument.  Just admit you’re wrong.  Grabbing extra subjects turns arguments about laundry into evaluations of your entire relationship.
    • Give opportunity for a “time out” or set a time to appropriately address the topic.  5 minutes before you leave for work or your kids leave for school is a terrible time to start a fight.  Not only does it spoil everyone’s day, but those might be the last words you ever say to someone.  Give time and space to get emotions in check, and let there be enough time to work it out.
  • With your critiques, do your best to not extrapolate a particular behavior into condemning their character. For instance, “look at all this trash, you’re so lazy” is bad (even if it’s true).  “Hey, I really need you to clean up after yourself.  It shows me that you care about me and the family when you do.  I show that I care about you by driving you to your friend’s house.  So we’re going to have the standard that I don’t sacrifice my time and gas money to drive you until you’ve shown you’re a part of the team here by picking up after yourself,” is better.
  • Technology is not your conflict friend. Perhaps the most important discipline for you to have with your phone is to refrain from using texts (or emails) to communicate negative feelings and ideas.  To anyone.  Ever.   Especially your teens.  If you are sitting in one room of your house and your teen is in another room, and you are texting out your clever, sharp, precise words on why you are right and they are wrong, grow the heck up and go talk to them.  If you’re not with them and need to get something off your chest, be like every parent ever in the previous 6,000+ years and wait until you’re with them.  This is excellent advise with your spouse and ever other human as well.

I really love the concept of the Love Tank from His Needs, Her Needs by William F. Harley.  Every day, in every interaction, we are making deposits and withdrawals from the love tanks of the people around us.  Stress and conflict can cause massive withdrawals.  But understanding and resolution can make sizable deposits.

My personal prayer, and my prayer for you, is that our goal in conflict is to win the person, not the argument.  The people in our lives are image bearers of God.  Let’s treat them that way.

What if it’s a Category 5?

A friend of mine recently asked me about handling crisis with some big picture perspective.  Sometimes worst case scenarios do come true.  Relationships can be destroyed.  People can die.  Knowing this possibility, how can one take a deep breath and make good decisions?

I got this question as we were busily preparing for Hurricane Irma.  While we were spared the vast majority of its powers, others had their lives and livelihoods destroyed.  We were spared this time.  Others weren’t.

Whether this hurricane gets you, or an earthquake comes, or the diagnosis comes back unfavorably, at some point the Worst Case Scenario is going to hit you.  When it does, there are two looming questions that have to be answered.

1). What does this say about God?

2). What do I do now?

I feel like those two questions have dominated the last 20 years of my life.  During that time:

  • I’ve been to college to study what the Bible says about God and people.
  • I’ve preached my first wife’s funeral at 28 years old.
  • I’ve heard the words “cancer” with my son and live every day with the understanding that remission could turn into relapse.
  • I’ve wrestled (this morning) with the fears that no treatment may fix a family member’s mental illness, and many may suffer because of it.
  • I’ve come to know Jesus in ways I never would have thought possible.  This one is the most important.

About God

It is a wicked, false teaching that says if you love and trust God enough,  you will be spared crisis and storm.  We live in a fallen world.  It’s ravaged by the effects of sin.  This is one of the primary points of the Bible.  God is no less good, holy, or kind just because terrible things happen.  It’s the promised results of rebellion.

So God never promised to deliver you from every storm.  Cancer. Car Wrecks. Catastrophes.  Betrayal.   And at some point, we will all experience Category 5 suffering.

God did not promise to deliver you from all suffering.  What He DID promise you was that he would be with you in the suffering.  That He would never leave you, nor forsake you. And that if you belong to Him, then ETERNALLY he will work every bit of this nastiness for your good (Romans 8:28).

I can tell you from experience.  He will be there.

God will be with you.

Every one of those five words is vital.  This is your hope.

About What I Should Do

Because the contexts of our sufferings are so different, it’s impossible to give a definitive list of “do these things”.  But these are some thoughts I hope might guide and encourage you:

  • Stop trying to be God.  You just cannot control everything.  You can’t control most things.  What you can control is how you respond.  Will you give in to panic or choose to trust?
  • Don’t live in the “what ifs”. There’s no such thing as hypothetical grace.  When you try to imagine the terrible things that might happen in the future, you’re doing so without the actual grace that God would give you to get through it.  Not all of those “what if’s” are going to happen.  Some might.  Most won’t.  But with the ones that do, God has promised to give you grace when the time comes.  But not before (Matthew 6:25-34).
  • Let other people help you.  Have you ever heard the term “God will never give you more than you can handle”?  It’s not true.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God will not allow you to be tempted with sin beyond capacity to resist.  But for the boulders in our lives, God often, OFTEN gives us more than we can handle, because He designed us to need Him, to need one another.  You need other people.  If someone wants to help, let them help.  Stop trying to keep score.  Walk in grace and humility.
  • Take the 500 year perspective. Remember, you are built for eternity.  Knowing this, think about the current Category 5 with the 500 year perspective. “How big of a deal will this be in 500 years?” Most things, even major current life events, will be no more than a blip the long run.  Hold fast to the long run.
  • Lower your expectations.  This time on the east coast of Florida we were expecting a category 5 and effectively got a strong wind storm.  But there was still substantial damage and lost power.  So we all lowered our expectations.  Ate junk food.  Took more naps.  Released ourselves from our normal levels of “productivity”.  And in the process, had some really wonderful relational experiences.  It was really freeing.
  • If you can, go slow.  Sometimes this isn’t possible.  But when it is, it’s always wise to slow down when things get really rough. Most decisions really don’t have to be immediate, and if you take a little time, some of them will just work themselves out.
  • Be with God.  I have already said that God will be with you.  But sometimes we ignore that, and we forget to be with God.  Take advantage of His presence.  Take refuge in His Word.  Pray honest prayers.  Pray the Psalms if you have no words of your own.
  • Hope in God.  I went to a concert recently that was for people struggling with self harm.  From the stage, the concert organizers kept telling the audience to not give up hope, but there was no backing to their hope.  They were hoping in… hope.  I’m telling you, hope in God.  He WILL be there.  He WILL see you through.  All of this darkness WILL be made right in eternity.  Don’t give up hope.

Life is hard, but life is good.  And many of the most important parts of our character are going to be shaped by those very hard things.

I pray you breathe deep, love hard, and know the Author of Life in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

 

Communicating with a teenager

In the old Star Trek TV show (I’m dorky enough to know about but not dorky enough to watch) Captain Kirk sometimes employed a nifty little gadget called a Universal Translator.  It worked by scanning the brainwave frequencies of its subject and using the results as the basis for communication.  I checked on Amazon to see if it’s available, because I KNOW my wife would love one as a gift for Christmas.  I think it might really help in communication with our teen.

Unfortunately, it’s not been invented yet.

Here’s the challenge: we live in the same house, use the same language, and have many of the same values and experiences as our teens, but for some reason the meaning behind the sentences we use gets all jumbled up between leaving our mouths and reaching their ears.  I’ve been asked to address this topic many times, and I’ve struggled to figure out how to put into words what might be helpful.  I’ve prayed and asked for help on addressing this subject, because I know it’s so challenging, and as of yet I don’t have  a definitive guide to mastering communication with your teen.

On the other hand, I have spent the better part of the last 20 years communicating with teens, sometimes successfully.  In the absence of a definitive guide, I present to you some random nuggets.  My prayer is that at least one of these might be helpful in deepening the connection with your teen.

  • This should be a regular, habitual subject of your prayer life.  “Lord, help me to truly connect with my child, to understand them and be understood.  May our relationship and communication be a source of stability and encouragement in their life”.
  • Teens are hypocrisy radars.  When your life does not align with what you are saying, they dismiss you or even hold you in contempt.  When you hold them to a different standard than you’re living, you harden their hearts.  Yes, they are absolute hypocrites too.  But that doesn’t mean that they will let you get by with it.  At this stage of life, your standard really needs to be consistent elimination of the specs in your eyes to be heard when addressing their planks.  And yes, I know Jesus originally said it the other way around.  He’s right.  But when your addressing your children, I think the standards are higher.
  • Face to face conversations can be challenging.  It’s often so much easier to talk about important things when doing something else together.  Go on a drive.  Cut up food for dinner.  Fold laundry.  Play a video game.  Doing something else helps release the nervous energy, let’s them not stare at your face, gives room for necessary awkward pauses, and allows room for much harder topics.
  • Write them notes and letters.  Mail some of them.  In a world of throwaway texts, things written on paper mean more.  Build your teen’s love tank by writing them meaningful encouragements.  That way theres’s some reserves in your relationship when it’s time to make a withdrawl.
  • Remember what an incredible bundle of insecurity you were at that age, and them multiply that by 10 or more.  Between Instagram, Snapchat, and the relentless barrage of digital media in their lives,  there is almost no escape for teen’s feelings of stress or inadequacy.  Not only do they have an endless stream of pictures of perfect celebrities and filtered friends, but if a terrorist runs a truck into the middle of a group of people in Spain, they know about it within 10 minutes.  Their stress is real.  I think acknowledging that reality is helpful for them.  It’s also extremely helpful to help limit their exposure to Everything Always technology.  But that’s a post for another day.
  • Because they are so insecure, most of your compliments are going to bounce off of them and your critiques are going to stick deeper than you intend.  That can be really frustrating.  Don’t give up the affirmation, and pick your battles with the critiques.
  • With your affirmations, be consistent and honest.  Also, in addition to telling them how smart and beautiful they are, focus on affirming things that are actually in their control.  For instance, “the way you carry yourself with modesty and genuine concern for others adds a whole other level to your beauty”, or “I am so proud of how hard you worked to get that B”.
  • The vast majority of texts between teens use Emojis.  They might seem dumb to you, but they convey emotion and relationship to your teen.  Even if you use them wrong, they’ll like you for it and your message will feel warmer.  My daughter tells me that her mother and I are the only people who text her using punctuation.  I feel like sentences should have periods on the end.  But that feels a little abrasive to my teen.  So I compromise.  I write my sentence, use my punctuation, and then insert a picture of a taco.  Sometimes I throw completely random emojis in that have nothing to do with what I’m talking about, just to keep her on her toes.  But I’m weird.

Next week I’ll focus more on conflict strategies.  For now, I would encourage you to pick one of these and try it out.  You might get instantaneous results, but I wouldn’t expect it.  No worries, you’re in it for the long haul.  Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

I’d love to hear some of your helpful communication strategies in the comments!

I wish I was a better parent…

Parenting used to be so easy.  I only had one kid.  She was young.  She was outnumbered.  We were so smart.

Then she started growing and getting complicated.  Then her siblings arrived.  Somewhere along the way the iPhone arrived.  So did Pinterest.

And now, we are outnumbered, deluged by information, mocked by images of pristine homes with hand hewn dinner tables covered with free range organic tofu. Yoga mom laughs at us as she hugs woodworking dad.  My peers are posting pictures of epic vacations where it looks like none of their kids fought.  Their kids are getting their black belts in Taekwondo and acing their first violin recital.

Ugh.  These parents are such great parents.  I wish I was a better parent.

But I’m not.

And truthfully, those people probably aren’t either.

Sure, some parents are better than others, and you’re probably not the best parent in the world.  But you’re definitely not the worst.  The worst parent in the world would surely not read “Let’s Parent on Purpose”.  That trait alone probably makes you above average.  Or it means you’re my nana (who’s definitely above average).  Hi Nana!

So, since we’re not the best, and since we’re not the worst, take these words to heart:

  • Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  Remember how you took a learners test, drove with someone for a year, and then took another test before you were allowed to drive a car?  That didn’t happen with parenting.  Other things happened to make you a parent.  But not specific training.  You’re learning as you go.  There are going to be so many things you don’t get right the first time around.  Seek forgiveness when you’ve sinned, be honest with your kids when you messed up, and move on.
  • Give your kids the benefit of the doubt.  They’re probably pretty weird.  They each definitely have at least one habit that mortifies you.  But they weren’t giving a kid manual either.  They’re learning as they go.  They’re not going to be everything you want them to be because they’re not your creation.  They’re God’s creation; you’re just the steward.  Let them be weird, and let them fail.  Forgive and move on.
  • Get over yourself.  It’s amazing how much ego is tied up into parenting.  People take coaching on their appearance, their athletics, their finances, and just about everything else better than they take coaching on their parenting.  Why do we get so offended when someone offers input into how we parent?  Honestly, I think I’m a pretty good parent, but I’ve only been the parent of a fifteen year old for 33 days.  I’m ALWAYS in uncharted territory.  We all are!  We should be open to hearing advice and council without acting like they denigrated our very soul.  You’re not going to like everything you hear, but listen.  Chew the meat, spit out the bones.
  • Get better. You’re not as bad of a parent as you think you are.  But you can most definitely improve.  There are so many things to improve!  Communication, feedback, finances, relationships, spiritual discipleship, cooking, delegating chores, tactfully saying “that outfit makes you look like a prostitute”….  So many things!  Above all else, the three things I want to be best at in life are 1) a lover of Jesus, 2) a great husband, and 3) a great father.  These are the things that are most important to me so I block off time not just to be in these relationships, but to get better in these relationships.

In all of this, remember that your standard is not social media or other people; it’s the Word of God.  And it’s from God’s Word that I learn a couple of incredibly important character lessons:

  • Suffering produces character.  We all want our kids to have deep character, to be loving, compassionate, hard working, helpful humans.  But most of that stuff doesn’t happen in a classroom.  It happens when life punches us to the floor (or trip and fall on the floor) and learn about the grace and mercy of God, as well as the blessing of having graceful people in our lives.  We never want trial or tragedy or broken hearts to come into our kids’ lives.  But in reality, the people we admire and want to be most like have walked through deep valleys.  The suffering in your child’s life has a purpose.  From a broken arm to a broken heart, suffering produces character.
  • God is the Great Physician.  Romans 8:28 teaches that God causes all things to work together for good for those that love him and are called according to His purpose.  Just like a pharmacist will mix together two poisonous substances in just the perfect way to provide the cure for our physical ailments, God can work together our mistakes as parents, the sin of our children, and the brokenness in this world to ETERNALLY be the best thing for us and our kids, through His Gospel and His Grace.  You’re going to really screw things up, and God’s going to use those screw ups for great good.

 

So you wish you were a better parent?  Me too.  And by God’s grace, tomorrow we will be.

 

LPOP 34 I wish I was a better parent

Complications at home and comparisons with other families can really tank one’s confidence in their parenting skills.  But there’s hope!

No Mo FOMO

There’s a creeping disease that’s infecting the hearts and minds of several generations of men and women.  It’s symptoms: anxiety, loneliness, depression, inability to enjoy activities, decreased attention span, and a distorted view of reality.

The disease: FOMO.

In case you’ve never heard the term FOMO, it stands for “Fear Of Missing Out”.  Wikipedia says

“Fear of missing out or FoMO is ‘a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent’. This social angst is characterized by ‘a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing’.”

It’s a real thing, and I see its symptoms daily.  I think FOMO has always been around, but social media has been gasoline on that little fire that chronically burns, at least in low levels, in most people’s hearts.

How extensive has the disease of FOMO been creeping in to your soul?  Do you find yourself:

  • in the middle of an activity that should be perfectly enjoyable but you feel stress because you’re thinking about something better that other people are doing?
  • checking your social media stream and feeling a great sense of loss because you see someone, or a group, doing something fun, and you weren’t invited or able to come?
  • feel tension and anxiety in your heart when it comes to making a choice – whether it be what meal to choose from a menu or what activity to do for an evening – because you keep thinking about all of the things you CANNOT eat or do when you make your choice?
  • find yourself cramming experience on top of experience as if you can fill the void and hole in your soul if you just live an epic enough life?
  • check your phone every moment there’s some kind of pause in your life so you can be updated on the latest in everyone else’s life?
  • jump on your social media streams while your in the middle of time with actual human beings, because your having a hard time staying interested or engaged in regular human interaction?
  • worry that your kids won’t be top level athletes/musicians/academics who hold great jobs, lead Bible studies, get the perfect boy or girlfriend, while having great character all at the same time?
  • tempted to switch churches because you heard or know that the music is better at another church, the speaker is more dynamic, or the kids just do more fun activities, even when the theology and spiritual health of your church is just fine?

Yes. Yes you do.  And so have I, to most of these.  It’s a sickness of the soul.  So here’s the cure:

STOP IT!

If you’re still with me and haven’t moved on to another blog/post/song, let me give you a couple of thoughts to encourage you off the ledge of FOMO:

  • YOU’RE GOING TO MISS OUT!  On most things.  Get over it.  You can’t be everywhere with everyone and do everything.  But you can be one place.  And actually be there.  It’s actually quite nice and freeing.
  • Boredom is not bad.  (Side note, I don’t allow my kids to say they are bored.  In our house that’s code word for “please give me some chores”. But actual boredom is not a bad thing.) As a matter of fact, boredom is what inspires creativity.  You need down time.  In fact, I remember a little a little something in the Bible commanding people to rest.  God commanded his people to quit striving and laboring every seventh day, which happens to be fourteen percent of their week.  With rest comes renewal.  With rest, stress leaves.  Also, neuroscientists have found that its when humans are “bored” that the greatest leaps of creativity come.  So just chill out.
  • You cannot do one thing and teach another.  Your FOMO will be amplified in your kids  You’re not helping them by enabling them to fill every waking moment with epic adventure or insane productivity.  They need help modeling relaxing, letting good opportunities go by, not feeling unloved or insecure when other friends do things without them.  You’ll have to live it for them to have a chance at getting it.

I’ll finish with some really helpful words from the writer of Hebrews:

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

In our Fear Of Missing Out, we’ve lost sight of the fact that Most Magnificent One is right there with us.

That should be enough.

It IS enough!

Don’t miss Him!

Backpacks, boulders, and boundaries

Warning: the next 600 words might have severe impact on your parenting and relationships.
This is the week kids dread and parents dream about all summer-at least in my house.  The first day of school has arrived. Moms and dads (OK, mostly just moms) across the country are scouring the school supply list to see all the items that need to fit into each little tyke’s backpack.
It’s fun to watch children shop for backpacks, find that special one, and then fill it with all of the treasures necessary for daily survival.
Backpacks are also one of the most helpful illustrations for healthy relationships I’ve ever encountered.
In my early twenties I came across the book  Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud.  Boundaries is based off of the scriptural teachings of Galatians 6.  Essentially there are 2 important statements that initially seem contradictory in Galatians 6.  In Galatians 6:2, we are commanded to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”  Two verses later, Galatians 6:4 ends by saying “for each shall carry his own load”.  Some translations actually use the same word – burden – for both verses.  Isn’t this confusing?  What should we do?  Bear one another’s burdens or bear our own?
Both
Here’s the two minute summary of an excellent book (if you want more detail, listen to my podcast on the subject, and if you’re still curious get the book):
Every single person in life has a certain amount of responsibilities that constitute our own personal “Load”.  This is their backpack.  When you’re little, your backpack might include tying your own shoes, picking up after yourself, apologizing when you’ve  done wrong, and acceptable chores.  When you grow up, your backpack includes paying your own bills, processing your emotions, showing up on time, doing your own work.  The Bible commands each of us to bear our own load.
On the other hand, however, we know that if we live long enough, every single person will also have their share of calamity and trial.  These burdens can fill like boulders.  Have you ever tried to carry a boulder?  You can’t, at least not for very long at all.  What are boulders?  It could be a sickness, injury, family death or tragedy, a series of terrible events… there’s no end to the types of boulders people encounter.  And the Bible commands us to bear one another burdens, their boulders, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The problem comes when people get backpacks and boulders confused.  People try to hand us (or we heroically take) their backpack.  We trudge along carrying their load, feeling overwhelmed and resentful.  Meanwhile they go along just fine, light and free and growing in irresponsibility.  The converse of this is when people are truly weighed down by boulders that they cannot carry.  The weight will crush them, but they have an overdeveloped sense of doing everything by themselves.  If we don’t step in and help, the damage will be great.
The trick is understanding what is an appropriate backpack and what is an appropriate boulder in each person’s life.
How can this help you?  First, practice it at home.  Have this conversation with your family, use visual illustrations of backpacks and boulders.  Talk about what’s in each person’s backpack.  Help your kids understand theirs, and help them understand yours.  Now, use the language as you walk through the week.
Then, as you build your discernment and courage muscles, take a look at your work and larger family environment.  Where are you picking up other people’s backpacks?  Where are you letting people flounder under boulders?  What might you do different?
The concept is easy, the application can be challenging, especially in dysfunctional environments.
I’m praying for you!  Let me know how it goes!

We are done with chemo, and I’m a little bit afraid.

As of today, we are done with all chemo treatment.  I can’t believe I’m actually writing this.

On April 14, 2014, our family’s world was turned upside down when we were told our little 5 year old boy had Leukemia.  I remember the first night in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, watching the nurse come into our room over and over again, switching out bags of blood and other medicines.

I didn’t know much about leukemia at the time, I’m not even sure I was positive it was cancer before Elijah got it.  I knew enough that first night to stay off the internet. There are lots of leukemias, and our boy only had one of them.  Until they gave it a specific name, I didn’t want to walk in the horror of all of them.

The next day, as our doctor and a team of staff from St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital filed into our room, I’ll never forget Dr. Saxena’s opening words.  “OK, your son has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and this is an excellent cancer to have…”  Say what?

It turns out that ALL is both an awful and awesome cancer to have.  To my knowledge, it’s the fastest killer of any cancer left unchecked.  But it’s also the most common childhood cancer.  Therefore, it’s the most researched, the most measurable, and has among the highest cure rates.  So I guess it is an excellent cancer to have.

But the treatment is brutal.

Three and a half years of chemo.  The first ten months, there were so many injections, so many hospital stays, I just can’t count them any more.  There was the time when Elijah started going into respiratory distress at the second dose of a chemo called Pegaspargase. There was the time where they did an echocardiogram of his heart before giving him some other kind of chemo, because the it’s known to cause damage to the heart.  There was that period where he would get high doses of methotrexate, and then stay in the hospital to get a rescue drug, because, you know, methotrexate can kill you.  There have been so many days in the outpatient center with three sweet nurses who had to check on him every fifteen minutes because the potentially catastrophic side effects of whatever they were injecting him with.  There was the trip to the podiatrist and the Xray of his heel, which showed this little sliver of cartilage that looked like granola instead of a solid object.  Was this caused by chemo?  Who knows.  There have been fevers of unknown origin, causing us to to stop whatever we are doing and head to the hospital for the next several days.  Just last month there was that inexplicable, debilitating headache that lasted for a week and ended up putting us back in the hospital.

There have been at least 2-3 chemo pills (and up to 15) every single day since April 16, 2014.  That’s 1,208 days of chemo.  I take that back, he did get a 2 week break after Delayed Intensification.  And maybe 12 other days where he was so sick they withheld treatment.

I have no idea how many injections of chemo he’s had on top of the pills.  100-200?

Oh yeah, and somewhere over 1,000 prednisone pills.

So it’s not been easy.  But honestly, MOST days have been good.  And we’ve cherished every one.  We’ve learned to cherish the most normal, boring days with all of our kids.  Those are actually our favorites.

I want to take this time to leave a couple of thoughts as a follower of Jesus and a parent of someone who’s finishing 3+ years of chemo:

  • It sounds worse than it is.  All of those stories, all of those numbers, they didn’t happen at once.  And we didn’t know the next one was coming.  So as long as we lived in the grace of that day, we made it through.
  • The presence of Jesus is very real, the grace of God is very real, the comfort of the Holy Spirit is very real.  I could give you story after story…
  • There’s a lot of joy to be had in pain and sorrow. Really sweet joy. At the same time, the root of bitterness will defile even the good things going on in your life.
  • One of the most important lessons of grace I’ve learned is to just give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  People aren’t trying to be insensitive.  The nurse didn’t wake up this morning planning to mess us up.  Most people who say “let me know if I can do anything” really would do something if they could just figure out how.  And I am under a tremendous load and am going to fail at a lot of things.  Just give people the benefit of the doubt, including myself.
  • I ask God to build all of these amazing things into me, my wife, my family, and my church.  I don’t get to dictate how He does it.  My son got leukemia, AND my Father loves us more than I can fathom.
  • Families walking through emotional and psychological illness (especially in a child) don’t get the sympathy and understanding of cancer families.  But in many ways, the journey is more exhausting and terrifying.  We’ve been in both worlds these last few years.  In our case, cancer is a much easier battle.  That’s a story for another day though.
  • And so now we are done with chemo, and I have to admit, I’m scared.  I feel like we know every single child in South Florida who has relapsed.  And we’ve grieved with plenty of parents who have buried their children.  I’m supposed to be overjoyed that we are done with chemo.  But it’s become a bit of a crutch.  And now I don’t know what to think.  So I suppose I’ll just have to trust God.
    • But I know that trusting God doesn’t mean my son won’t relapse. It means that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and His grace will be there.
    • So I will pray that day never comes, celebrate today, live in gratitude, and marvel at the little man and family God has forged through this fire.

Thank you Jesus.

Consequences Don’t Have to be Immediate

Have you ever made a promise to a toddler and then forgot, only to have them remind you 27 times?  They don’t forget.  Yet when it comes to doling out consequences for behavior, we often feel immense pressure to come up with the perfect consequence on the spot.  This can be especially difficult when we’re angry, exasperated, and wondering how you’re supposed to come up with the perfect deterrent for a situation you never fathomed could even happen.  Emotions are high all the way around, and it’s likely that one or the other of you is going to react over the top.  Not the ideal learning laboratory.

The good news: unless you’re parenting a rat, dog, or ferret, or 18 month old, you don’t always have to feel compelled to come up with an immediate consequence.  Actually, delayed consequences can have a lot more power.

Children, and especially teenagers, are emotional creatures.  And just like us, when their emotions are flaring, it’s very difficult to think logically, rationally, or learn much of anything.  You can try to enforce your family standards while you both are in fight or flight mode, OR you can wait a little while gather your wits, get some council, think through the fallacies of your consequences, let the anticipation build, and THEN drop the hammer like Thor on one of those green thingies from the movies.

What might this look like?

  • Child A gets caught cusssing/cheating/hitting/stealing/drinking/lying/etc-ing.
  • Parent A feels like they are going to blow up inside, but instead responds with an even mannered “ooooo… that’s a really big deal. I’m not even sure how to handle this.  Why don’t you go to your room/mow the lawn/fold laundry/start your homework while I figure out what an appropriate consequence is.”
  • Child A begins to protest, laying out a defense that would get OJ acquitted again.
  • Parent A responds with “yeah, what a bummer… go ahead and do what I just asked while I think through what’s an appropriate consequence to make sure this never happens again”
  • Parent A takes as long as they want… minutes, hours, all day to think it through, call for advice, talk to the other parent.  Child A gets to cool off from the firestorm of defense they were attempting, and now gets to live in anticipation of the cruelty that awaits them.
  • When the Parents are ready, they call the for the child, rehearse what the child or teen did, talk about why it’s such a big deal, and then drop the consequence bomb.

Why is this method so desirable?

  • Anticipation makes everything more awesome.  Dates, desserts, and discipline!
  • You get time to cool off and give an appropriate consequence. You even have time to get creative.
  • You don’t have to punish angry, and this is a huge teaching moment for your kids.  You didn’t react in anger, you collected yourself.  This is what they should also do.
  • You have time to make sure you give a punishment you can actually stick with.
  • You might actually have a great discussion instead of just a fight.

This love and logic method of parenting is laid out in detail in Foster Cline & Jim Fay’s Parenting Teens with Love and Logic.  I highly recommend it.

Have fun! And do me a favor, share this if you think it’s worthwhile!

 

Can Orphans Change the World?

If you’re normally a reader of this blog, can I ask you, for just one week, to  Listen to this Podcast?

I had the special, and extremely rare, opportunity to interview Dr. Samuel Thomas of Hopegivers International recently.  Dr. Thomas is a hero of the faith.  More than 60 years ago, his father M.A. Thomas started preaching Jesus in North India where there was less than 1 Christian for every 10,000 people.  Dr. Sam grew up traveling with his dad, helping plant churches, and sharing his bedroom and meal tables with countless orphans.  Today, his dad is in heaven, having spearheaded a movement that has planted over 50,000 churches and cared for tens of thousands of orphaned and at risk children.

Dr. Thomas is now the president of Hopegivers, and oversees the care of thousands of children, the training of hundreds of new pastors, and the shepherding of countless churches throughout India and South Asia.

If you’ve ever wondered what God might do in circumstances that seem completely hopeless, listen to how God has used the lowest of the low – the outcaste, orphan, beggar -to become the highest of the high – pastors, nurses, educators, missionaries.

God is changing the world, ESPECIALLY when it seems like all is lost. Listen to this special interview, and if you’re encouraged and inspired, contact me to find out how you can get involved!

When Mom is Managing Alone

I find it strange that over 90% of the individual people written about in the Bible are men when far more women around the world pursue Jesus than their male counterparts.  Godly moms are the backbone of the faith.

I’m not a mom, but there was a period of my life when my first spouse had gone to heaven and I lived as a single dad with a little girl in a city away from family.

Wake up, get ready, wake her up, get her dressed, feed her, get her to school, go to work, get her, shop, clean, chores, homework, play time, get to church, feed, bathe, council, collapse.  Repeat every day.  Try to exercise, eat well, and have adult relationships.  Fail.

This was a fairly short period of my life, and I had a phenomenal church family supporting me with friends who would babysit and amazing mentors in my life and my daughters.  And yet I still had to function as a robot most of the time.  And that was with one, very good child.

That’s what moms are doing every day.  For years.  With multiple kids.  Alone.

Often there’s a dad in home who helps with various roles, but unfortunately the LEAST fulfilled role in the home for dads is that of spiritual leader.  Truly, Godly moms are the backbone of the faith.  But when there’s a Godly mom AND dad, the home absolutely thrives.

This post is going to speak moms who are managing alone, and I’ll do it in two categories:

If your a single mom:  First off I don’t know how you even have time to read this.  You’re amazing, and there’s no judgment here for whatever got you into that circumstance.  You know it’s not ideal, but it is what it is.

Your kids need godly men in their lives.  You need godly men in your lives.  You, above all people, need a massive spiritual support system.    Here is my suggestion (full of grace, speaking in the ideal): commit to regularly being a part of as many of the church meetings as you can a week.  Get your kids immeshed in the children’s ministry, and become a volunteer in ONE children’s ministry program.  I know it sounds like I just added an elephant to your plate, but hear me out:  You and your kids don’t need  programs, you need people (the right people).  And this pattern might be hard at the beginning, but over the long run it WILL make your load lighter.  You don’t just want to drop them at the program and take a break (although you really need it) because you want to hear what they are being taught, reinforce it, get to know the godly people investing in their lives, serve Jesus, and share your life with them.  You want to point out to your kids who the godly men are, what the great qualities are in their lives, and what practices will help instill those qualities (your boys AND girls need to see and understand these things).  And then you want to trust the ministry to care for your kids at other times while you get a group of other adults to enrich and support you.  Now, with a little time in this pattern, you’ve just gained your support group.  You need a free night, you’ve got trusted friends to babysit.  Something breaks in your home or car, you’ve got loving people to help.  You meet a guy you’re interested in, you’ve got the safety net of a community to help evaluate him and protect you.

That’s it, that’s my whole advice.  I’m praying for you!

For married women with passive husbands: I know there are various levels of passivity in men.  Some are totally passive, some are just spiritually passive.  I’ll try to give council that helps in all of the gradients.

  • Pray without ceasing:  The primary problem is a heart problem.  Give it to the father, ask Him to do what you can’t.  Be specific, but in the process be thankful.  Spend more time praising God for who your husband is than who he isn’t.
  • Be specific without nagging: Nobody thinks of everything, and nobody’s good at everything.  This is especially true of every man I’ve ever met.  So if you can be specific with what you’d like, and do it in a way that’s loving and affirming, it might help.  Just remember you get maybe one of these a season unless your marriage is already super stable and your husband’s heart is secure and tender towards you and Jesus.  So choose wisely. Sometimes you might choose something that’s NOT the biggest thing in the world, so that when they do it, you get to affirm it and fill both of your love tanks.
  • Train a man like you train a dog: Last night my family was watching America’s Got Talent. Some girl came out in a pirate costume with a sword and a hyper dog.  She said she wanted to win to show people what you could do with a pet using positive reinforcement.  Over the next three minutes, she had this dog doing flips, jumping through hoops, and walking backwards on two legs while carrying a sword in his mouth.  How’d she do it?  Reward what you want to see.  If your husband is passive, then he’s likely going to go deeper into his passivity if you get harsh or negative with him.  So you’re going to have to be doubly active, encouraging, affirming, and rewarding the actions, attitudes, and behaviors your longing to see.  Tell him “you did a great job of making me feel loved/safe/valued when you did that”.  Or “Thank you, I could see our kids lighting up when you prayed for them/taught them that/etc.”. Or “Thank you, I LOVE when you invest in our kids/spiritually lead our family”.  Or “when you lead our family like that it makes me want to have sex with you”.  Figure out what works, then work it.
  • You’re going to need to fill in the gaps by exposing your kids to godly men.  As you develop relationships with them 1) guard your heart, they are NOT your husbands and not the solution to your marriage and 2) as appropriate drop these men hints on character traits you’re struggling to see built into your kids.  Ask if they can help or affirm that stuff in your kids.  You don’t always have to go into all of the details of what’s lacking in your home.  Just give them hints of what you’re hoping to build into your boys and girls so they can be more proactive.
  • As best as you can, commit to getting your kids to all of the regular church meetings.  As a youth pastor, I find it impossible to disciple the teens that show up 2 Sundays and 1 Wednesday a month.  Ideally, the church isn’t the primary discipler of your kids. But if there’s something lacking in the home with discipleship, it’s all the more important to make sure that they get as many reps as possible with godly mentors and peers.

This stuff is hard.  But don’t lose heart.  God is moving and working.  He loves your family even more than you do and He’s not done yet!

 

When Dad is a Spiritual Dud

It’s likely that those who need to read this most, won’t.

If you are a dad, please read this, even if you consider yourself a spiritual, physical, and financial giant.

There are various gradients of Dud Dads.

  • There are dads who impregnate women and totally abandon them.
  • There are dads who impregnate women but won’t commit to them.  Maybe they send child support.  Maybe they visit their kids sometimes.  Maybe some combo.  Maybe not.
  • There are dads who impregnate women, that relationship doesn’t last, but they genuinely do love their kids and make effort.
  • There are dads who impregnate women, won’t marry them, but will live together and help take care of the kids.
  • There are dads who marry the mothers of their children (in various order)  and might
    • be physically present but emotionally abusive
    • be physically present and emotionally absent
    • be physically present and “nice”… but generally passive and lethargic
    • be physically present but still act like a child themselves
    • find all of their value in financially providing for the family
    • find no value or drive to financially protect and provide for their family
    • find all of their value in their kid being great at a sport
    • be so addicted to pornography they don’t realize how distorted all of their relationships are
    • be a great husband and dad, but spiritually disinterested

I could probably come up with about 50 more shades of dad.  The point is: there’s lots of ways that men screw up being dads.  Also, you can ALWAYS find dads that are worse than you.  But the fact that the world is littered with terrible dads doesn’t make me a better dad, and that fact doesn’t improve my  my family.  It’s just a tempting excuse to be satisfied and slip into passivity.

Dads – YOU are the foundational relationship in the family.  You set the tone.  You set the boundaries.  You create the vision.  Even when you don’t, especially when you don’t, you do.  This isn’t a slam against moms.  Moms are more naturally driven to care for their families, to nurture, guide, and pour themselves out for their family.  But sadly, too often, they’re doing it alone, or even with opposition.  If you’re one of those moms, I’ll talk in detail to you next week.  In the meantime, don’t lose heart, and PRAY for your husbands.

Back to you dads.  Here’s some uncomfortable news:  The default way your kids will think about their Heavenly Father is what you’ve modeled for them as their earthly father.  God has called you to be THE primary shepherd of your home.  Not your wife, not your pastor, certainly not your youth pastor!  Way more women pursue Jesus than men. But as dad goes, so goes the family.  As a man, God made you strong, and you’re to use your strength to take care of others (not to get your way).

Here are some simple ways to use your strength to take care of your family (they are simple but they might be really intimidating for you.  They will only be intimidating until you start doing them).

  1. Intentionally, visibly lead your family spiritually
    • Lead them in prayer at meal times and bed time
    • Pray with your wife about your kids
    • Let them see you reading the Bible, talk about what you’re reading and learning
    • Be the leader in getting your family to the church meetings each week.  Find a small group for you and your wife to grow.  Volunteer to serve in the areas of ministry your kids are in.  Don’t be satisfied with other mean being the spiritual leader of your kids
    • Have a family mission
  2. Intentionally speak words of life into your kids
    • Tell them “I love you” every single time you see them
    • Tell them “I’m proud of you, and you’re really good at __________” often
    • Talk about how awesome their mom is and how much you love her
    • Pursue your wife like you did when you were first trying to win her
  3. Get a band of brothers
    • This stuff is the greatest fight of your life, you’re going to fail a lot, and you can’t go at it alone
    • Be open and honest with them!

I think the downfall of the modern man is that we’re dying of boredom.  We get into all kinds of trouble and fill our lives with distraction because we don’t have an epic battle.  Except that we do.

Fight!

 

Want to be a better parent? Be a better spouse.

I love my kids, but one day, God willing, they’re going to leave my home.  And God willing, until it’s time to go to heaven, there’s never going to be a day when my wife leaves my home.

Here’s the thing about God’s will-I have to pursue it, He’s not just going to make it happen.  God is sovereign, but in that sovereignty he’s given us a billion individual choices.  He’s going to make the big picture ultimately work out  for His glory and the good of the world, but I have plenty of opportunity to make a mess this little micro corner of creation through my choices and decisions.

So here’s a typical story: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they get married.  Things are great, except for the stress, the fighting, the drowning in expectations, and realization that feelings don’t stay burning hot when you’re dealing with morning breath, mortgages, and mothers-in law.  But still, there’s a general sense of fun and freedom an flexibility to date, do what you want, and build memories.

Then you have a kid.  And now it takes more packing to go to a friends house for the evening than it used to take for a week long camping trip.  Maybe you have more kids.  And the kids grow.  And man, are they demanding.  But you love them so much!   So you have more kids, and your world has become consumed with meeting their needs, caring for their sicknesses, and helping them become super achievers so they can be athletic musical Einsteins.  Husband and Wife roles have now become subservient to Mom and Dad roles.  There’s just no time for yourself, much less each other.  And when you get time, you’re exhausted and just want to numb yourself in front of a screen.  You don’t even know each other any more, and you’re not sure you care.

Fight the power.

I know you’ve been told this at some point, but let me say it again: homes where the children are the center of the universe are homes where the marriage doesn’t last.   The greatest stability you can give your kids is the knowledge that mom and dad really love each other and are not going to get a divorce.  

No matter what state your marriage is in the moment (unless it’s wickedly abusive or has been totally broken by chronic immorality), no matter how much work it feels like it will take, it’s easier to work hard on your marriage than to blow up your family.

So you want to be a great parent?  Start by being a great spouse.  Here are some practical, simple suggestions to get you along the way.  Most are free.  Several don’t take any time and very little effort.  All will go a long way:

Tell your spouse you love them.  Tell them often.  In front of the kids even.

Flirt with your spouse.  In front of the kids even.

Hug and kiss and cuddle with your spouse.  When the kids try to invade and get in the middle, kick them out. They’ll be sad now but stable later.

Put a date night on the calendar for each week. Fight for it, and then walk in grace when it only happens once or twice a month.  If you’re poor, pack some sandwiches and just get out of the house together.  If you can’t afford a babysitter, team up with another couple that lacks family in the area and switch off watching one another’s kids each week.

Write notes to each other.  Put them in places your spouse will find at surprising points in the day.

Have sex.  With each other.  A lot.

Be open with what you need from one another.  Wives, if your husband isn’t doing something you want, tell him.  It doesn’t make him a worse husband or human, and it doesn’t mean he loves you less because he didn’t figure it out on his own.  If you tell him and he starts doing it, it PROVES his love, because men, though clueless, don’t generally do things just because someone asks.  So if you ask and he does it, you’ve got a man!

Pray with each other. Read the Bible together.

Find a hobby together, apart from the kids.

Talk up your spouse to your kids.  Talk about how awesome they are, how mommy and daddy are a team, how much you love them, and how you’ve got their back.

In a dream world, get away, overnight, a few times  a year.  This will take some sacrifice, some humbling as you ask for help from others, and will remind you how awesome you think your spouse is.

Give yourself grace.  Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.  Lighten up!

You can do this.  And it turns out that this stuff is super fun.  Being married has plenty of challenges, but with a little bit of intention, it should remain one of the biggest blessings in your life.  Your kids will leave you.  But you spouse promised you and God to stay.  By God’s grace, and your work, they will.

Summer Growth Plan

“A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan next week” General George S. Patton

I am an obsessive planner.  Some of them actually happen.  Many don’t.  But I can say that I’ve managed to accomplish FAR more by making and working towards goals in different areas of my life than I would otherwise.

This might possibly be the most important post you read and do this summer.  We are in a 2 week stretch in our Student Ministry where we are helping our students think about how to intentionally use their time this summer to move forward in various aspects of their lives.  There’s no reason this couldn’t be a family exercise.  As a matter of fact, I cannot think of anything better for you to do with your kids than MODEL intentional growth in your spiritual life, and sometimes learning how to intentionally grow in other areas helps set the patterns for our spiritual life.

So here’s a little chart that each person in your family can think through and share with one another.  Before you click, as an expert planner, and an expert at failing to follow through on many of my plans, let me give you a couple of thoughts that will help you and your family actually succeed at your goals:

  1. If you have too many goals, you’re more likely to fail across the board.  There are six areas on this worksheet.  Don’t feel obligated to fill them all out.  Or, maybe you should fill them all out and then pick the TWO you are most passionate to tackle.
  2. An end of summer goal should be challenging, but reasonable.  You can go a long way towards developing a habit in the next two months, but you’re not going to revolutionize your physique or memorize the book of Romans between now and then.  Think of where you would like to be in these areas by Christmas.  Your Summer Growth Plan should really help you get on that path.  If you can manage a new habit in the unpredictable chaos of summer, you’ll be a pro when you get back into the routine filled fall.
  3. Your goal should consist of daily (or multiple) very doable baby steps.  The steps should be different than what you’re currently doing, but small enough to be manageable and somewhat enjoyable.
  4. Reward yourself every day you take your daily step.  I recommend chocolate.  Even for losing weight.  Especially for Bible reading, memorization, or witnessing.
  5. Find a partner or family member to share your plan.  Secret goals are goals we don’t actually plan to accomplish.
  6. Success gives momentum for success.  That’s why you should pick just one or two areas.  If you succeed in them, you’ll have developed the skill and confidence to tackle the other areas next!

OK, that’s enough.  Have fun!

Summer Growth Plan

 

Getting to Know Gen Z Part 2 – Confidently Confused

Today we will continue our discussion of the characteristics of Generation Z, the largest generation on earth, currently in elementary-high school.  If you didn’t catch last week’s post, please read it first.  Also, you’re really going to want to listen to the podcast for this week, as I talk to four students who have great perspective on what it’s like to be salt and light in a confused public school campus.

They are confidently confused.

  • In the past couple of decades, there has been a seismic shift.  For some time, it seemed that moral values, identity, etc. were put on the table as open topics of discussion.  Now, I’m seeing that masses of students are confidently, sometimes militantly asserting that their position is correct, even if it makes no sense at all.  Many of our student who are following Jesus now get blasted as hateful and intolerant – not because of how they actually treat people – but because they dare to say that some things are right and that some things are wrong.
  • The word “tolerance” has changed its meaning.  No longer does it mean “I disagree with you but we can live in mutual respect and appreciation”.  It means “I must agree that what you’re doing is perfectly wonderful, otherwise I am _______phobic”
  • Our teens, and increasingly our elementary aged children, are swimming in this culture.  Some of them are swayed by this distorted thinking and simply adopt the thinking (or lack of thinking) of their peers.  Others hold to traditional Biblical viewpoints and face various levels of shaming or shunning by classmates.
  • As a parent, I’ve realized there is no such thing as a fully protective bubble from these trends.  So I’ve tried to take the following pro-active steps
    • Model and celebrate the fact that God created man and woman distinctly AND both in His image.
    • Equip my children and students with a solid definition of manhood and womanhood that isn’t based on tasks or talents, but still affirms their uniqueness as men and women.
    • Swallow my instincts to spout off gut reactions or trite sayings about “the way things should be”.  I want to continually shine light on the truth, but I also want to realize that some of my kids and friends are going to walk through struggles that seemed absolutely foreign to me.  I want to keep doors open for them to express their honest struggles without fear of my harsh reactions.  Yes, this can be an internal fight, but it’s time to be the grown up, suck up my feelings, and be prepared to answer with confidence, gentleness, and humility.
    • Talk to my children and students as both a teacher and a learner.  I know some of the answers.  But I don’t know exactly what they are going through.  I don’t know how it feels. I don’t know what it’s like to be coming of age in this particularly warped sexual culture.   Ask them questions on what they experience, what their friends are going through, how it makes them feel.  Understand that they’re not always going to talk to me about these things, even if I want them to.
    • Surround my kids with as many adults and peers as I can that are grounded in their biblical worldview, love, and kindness.  I want to help steer my kids towards adults they may feel safe to talk to when I’m too scary.  I want them to be in a culture of friends that will sound the warning and call them out when they are being foolish.
      • THIS, among 3,452 other reasons, is why we don’t just go to church when it’s convenient.  We immerse ourselves in the church body.  We pour into people.  We get poured into.  We reach out and invest, and trust that others will do the same to our kids.  Or, you can go at it alone.  Seems like an easy choice to me.

It’s a new world.  Generation Z is going to do some amazing things.  But they’re going to carry baggage like other generations have never experienced.  In the middle of the mess, there is ministry, there is Jesus.

Let’s be Jesus to these kids.

Getting to know Generation Z – Part 1

This is going to be the first of a series of post on getting to know Generation Z.  These are the kids who are currently in Elementry-High School.  Moms and dads, you might have thought you were raising Millennials.  Surprise!  Those are the adult children still living in your house.  So maybe you are still raising them…

Before diving into the details, I want to give a big shout out to Amy Jo Girardier at Girlsminister.com.  You should really check out her stuff.  You can even subscribe to her email and get a great PDF summarizing much of what I’ll be talking about over the next few weeks.  You should really subscribe to the podcast as well.  Each week I’m going to have an expert panel of teens that help me break down some of these characteristics and how they play out.  So let’s jump right in.

What to know about Generation Z: They are NOT Millennials!

  • They are less parented
    • I’ve talked about it in a previous post and podcast, but Millennials were characterized by helicopter parenting.  Moms and/or dads hovered over them, stepped in to rescue them, made sure they were affirmed and welcomed and awarded (even when they shouldn’t be).  This group can be described better as having been drone parented.  They’ve all got their cell phones, so mom and dad can sit at home (or wherever) and check in on what and where their kids are much easier.
    • This is great in some ways.  Kids are having to figure out how to manage stuff on their own a little better.  They get to strengthen their decision making muscles more  At the same time, they often lack critical guidance and frame of reference for those decisions.
    • This is important for you to understand.  Even if you are an active and involved parent, it’s very likely that many of your kid’s friends are not.
  • They are more entrepreneurial
    • Siri, google, and youtube have lowered the bar to learning just about anything.  Generation Z can figure out how to play the guitar, build a web page, or start a drop-shipping business from China (I didn’t make that one up, I know an 11th grader who has done this).
    • A FAR greater majority of these students would like to own their own business some day.
    • They’ve still got some work to do. Business leaders are finding that many of these young people want to be in leadership before paying their dues as a reliable worker. They want to bring ideas to the table, not necesarily follow through with the grunt work of making those ideas happen.
  • They are VERY collaborative.
    • Group texting, shared Google Docs, and other advances in technology have enabled Gen Z to work as a team whether they are around one another or not.
    • I’ve noticed in Student Ministry that I can give a trusted group of theses students a general concept and they will feed off of one another to come to a much better idea that I ever would.

All in all, I love this generation, and it’s a fun learning curve to figure out the best ways to stay in their world while calling them to the kingdom of Jesus.

Even if your student doesn’t match every one of these characteristic (and I hope they don’t), you need to know that their peers often do.  Take time this summer, read through these lists, talk to your teens on whether they agree or not.  And listen to these awesome podcasts!

Don’t fret, there’s hope.  God’s doing great things in and through Generation Z!

Be a Hopegiver

This week on my Let’s Parent on Purpose Podcast I interview Dr. Samuel Thomas of Hopegivers.  Even if you’ve never listened to any of the podcast before, I urge you, please listen to this one.

I’m not going to relay what Dr. Thomas and I talked about.  Instead I want to share how this ministry has changed my family’s life, and why I think you really should consider supporting Hopegivers (and if not, supporting another ministry on the front lines of reading the world’s most impoverished).

I’ve been involved with Hopegivers since 1999 when my home church started taking trips to India to provide medical relief to the orphans.  I began making visits during that time, and I’ve been at least seven times by now.  I’ve seen Hope Homes that number over 1,000.  I’ve been to homes that have just eight children.  Here’s what I’ve encountered:

  • Nengboi – a small girl with a blank stare in her eyes. She watched her mother and father be murdered before her eye because of a separatist movement in eastern India.  She came to the Hope Home malnourished, full of parasites, covered in scabies and lice.  The next year I visit again and find a blossoming, mischevious little girl who knows she’s loved and has found friends, food, and safety.
  • Jangboi- a teenage boy of about 15 years old, sent to live in the home years earlier because his parents were destitute and he would have starved if he stayed home.  I first met Jangboi about 14 years ago.  Now he’s one of the head leaders of the largest Hope Homes, serving as the father and protector of more than 300 boys.
  • Veer- a Bible college student who served as a translator on our trips.  Veer came to Hopegivers (Called Emmanuel Ministries in India) as a child.  Upon graduation from Bible College Veer got married and moved his family to a city in North India of over a million with virtually no established Christian presence.  He has since planted multiple churches, started a Christian School that educates Hindu, Muslim, and orphan children, and has begun his own orphanage to repeat the cycle.

What changes their lives?  They go from being outcasts to wanted.  They wake up around 5AM and spend the first hour of the day in prayer (even the children).  They sing worship songs celebrating what Jesus has done in their lives, and also singing about the joys of getting to suffer for the sake of Christ, even to the point of death.  They look at persecution as the seed of the gospel.  They are convinced that this world is not our home.

I began visiting India with Hopegivers so that I could help orphans and pastors.  What I found is that they helped me.  When you spend time with children who’s parents have been killed, who have been transformed by the grace of Jesus, you’re no longer allowed to wallow in your own self pity and misery.  When you see God meeting the needs of an impossible ministry, you stop fretting that He might not come through for you.

Over the next several months I will be working on an initiative with Hopegivers that I’m calling the Full Quiver Project.  Hopegivers looks at each orphan as an arrow that God gives them for the sake of the gospel.  They gather, sharpen, and launch them into the unreached cities and villages of India.  The Full Quiver Project is going to help Hopegivers provide homes that are fully supported, to do the best job they can.  Please pray for God to move in the hearts and wallets of those who could help.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 

James 1:27

This is a striking verse.  It tells us that the widow and orphan are the closest people to the heart of God.  It also says that God doesn’t just want our money, he wants our lives.  We don’t just send money to help the afflicted.  We visit them in their distress.

You might not be able to go to India (yet).  But there are scores of children in need in our own community.  Adopt.  Foster.  Become a big brother/big sister.  Volunteer at the Boys and Girls club.  Pray, ask God to open your eyes to what you can do.

You may not be able to change the world.  But you can change one.  And if you change one, God will change you.

And since you’ve read this far, please share this with others, then go on over and check out www.hopegivers.org

Thank you!

Three Steps to Stop Being a Church Consumer

Over the last few years I’ve noticed a pretty significant change in the way people are involved with their church.  When I was a kid and young adult, “regular” church attenders were involved in Sunday School, a Worship Service, and generally the Sunday and Wednesday night services.  Your most faithful attenders would miss perhaps one or two weeks a year for vacation and then another one or two weeks a year for sickness or special events.  This meant that the core of your church came together at least 100-130 times a year.  Between Sundays and the evening services, your “average” church-goer was still there 75 times a year or so.

The times they are a changing.

Now, as I look through the attendance patterns of our teens (and by extension, their families), I see that the people we consider the most plugged in average around three Sundays a month and perhaps two or three Wednesdays a month.  We don’t have Sunday night services any more (we do have Life Groups that meet in homes, but they take seasons off).  Based on the sample size I work with, I would estimate that our “average” teen makes it to two Sunday services a month, and then one or two Wednesdays a month.  The “average” family hovers around two services a month and maybe one other meeting that month.  This is confirmed nationally in several articles I’ve read.

Why is this the case?  I see a few factors involved:

  • Jobs have changed
    • Most jobs I know now are not Monday-Friday 9-5.  The hours our weird, expectations are different.  Sunday is just another work day for much of the world.
    • Many jobs aren’t confined to an office any more.  The laptop can go anywhere.  People can work as they travel.  This means they get to travel more.
    • Despite the perpetual doom and gloom about the economy, many people are doing well at work.  They work hard, they want to take advantage of that by doing fun things with their family.
  • Culture has changed
    • Sports seasons don’t seem to ever end now.  If your child is more athletic, many of the sports now require weekend-long tournaments.
    • Through the advent of social media and mobile technology, we’re always aware of someone going on a trip or vacation.  It makes us feel like we should too, far more often than we might have as children.  Plus living in South Florida means you can take a mini-vacation with a 1.5 hour drive every weekend if you want.
    • People just seemed to be committed to more things, but less committed to any of those things in particular.
    • Consumerism has been a driving force my entire life, but it really feels like it’s taken hold in the church in the last couple of decades.  When everything in marketing is bent around saying that you should get exactly what you want, people have learned to “shop” for churches that best meet their needs, and then only consume the parts of it that meet those needs, and often only in the moment when those needs are particularly felt.

Now some of these characteristics are unavoidable and benign, some are potentially harmful, and some are spiritually dangerous.  I am trying not to be the grumpy old man who wants everything to be like it was in the olden days.  At the same time, when the average member of the body of Christ meets together half as much as before, it’s foolish to think there are not consequences.  Relationships take time.  And they also take intentional time together.  Imagine how your child is going to feel about the church as an adult if the bulk of the commitment their younger years was based on feelings and commitment.  And I’m not just talking about the institution of the church.  I’m talking about the body of Christ.  Your love and commitment to the church is directly related to your love and commitment to Jesus.

I’d like to offer three suggestions for how you might best set your children up to love and commit to Jesus and His Church.

  1. Make meeting with the church a priority. 

Hebrews 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

I see from this that my family is to draw together with the body of Christ for the celebration of what Jesus has done in our lives, but also for the sake of investing and encouraging in others.  Teach your family that “we go to give, not to get.  When we give to others, God makes sure we get what we need.”

2.   Commit to a specific small group.  

The church isn’t about a Sunday Morning production.  It’s about a group of people who identify under Jesus, who live, love, and learn together.  If you expect your kids to commit to specific people that will encourage and hold them accountable, you’re going to need to model it.

3.   Identify how you specifically serve your church body.

Meaningful service is the fuel for discipleship.  We were built by God to pour out.  Your kids need to know how you’ve sacrificed and committed to serving your church family on a regular basis, so that they will see it’s normal.  Service is not an event, it’s a lifestyle for those who follow Jesus!  If possible, bring your family alongside you in the service roll with your church.  Then help them identify and own their specific ways of serving based on how the Spirit has gifted them.

Culture is going to continue to change.  We’re never going back to the olden days.  If we did, I bet we would see that they were full of problems too.  But purposeful parenting in regards to commitment and connection to the Body of Christ is one of the most important steps you can take to build kids that are a blessing to the world!

Mother’s Day Thoughts: Rebel and Repeat

As I think about the raising of my kids, I realize there’s one dominating factor that influences my default parenting style more than anything else:

My own childhood.

I was born and raised in a small town in West Virginia.  I had a safe neighborhood with plenty of woods right behind my house.  I am the youngest of five kids.  A part of a blended family.  I had a fireman for a dad.  I had a superwoman for a mom.

I always knew that my mom and dad loved each other.  I always knew that mom and dad loved me.  Mom and dad are still married and I like them so much that we moved next door to them.  When they split their time up north living near the rest of my siblings, they still go to the same church I was born into.  There was never a time in our life where we simply “went” to church.  We were the church, we served the church, our friendships were our church family.  We celebrated births and grieved deaths together.  With the same people.  Year after year.

My adult years have been filled with more trials and challenges than I would have dreamed I could survive.  But in the midst of all of the turmoil, there has been a core stability in my soul, largely because of decisions my parents made to Rebel and Repeat.

Mom and dad both grew up poor.  They both grew up surrounded by family, church, and people with intensely strong work ethics.   But they also grew up in homes that might nowadays be called dysfunctional.  They had dads that didn’t always show a steady hand of love.  They both experienced adults in their lives who put on a religious show but lived selfishly.  They had moms that carried the spiritual load for the family.  They saw and experienced great examples of people and dark selfishness.

They both found Jesus at an early age, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through their lives they both learned to Rebel and Repeat.

I never lived in the volatile home situations of my parents.  With five kids, there were plenty of chaotic times, but at the core I experienced such a steady foundation in my home.  But still, there were plenty of decisions where I have had to make choices to Rebel and Repeat.

Why do we need to Rebel and Repeat?  Because for good and for bad, our childhood shapes so much of who we are as parents.  Some of us grow up in great homes, some of us grow up in broken homes.  But all of us have to choose which parts of our childhood we are going to turn away from, and which parts we are going to pass along.
My kids are going to need to know that God is a good, loving Father.  This was so easy for me to do, because my dad was a steady, loving dad.  I want to repeat this.  Actually I want to do even better, considering that I grew up with an example that he never had.

My kids need to have a strong work ethic.  They’re going to need to know that they are not just leeches, but important parts of the family.  My mom helped me learn this by giving me chores around the house beyond merely looking after my own stuff.  I want to repeat this, especially because it makes life easier on my wife, which make my life happier.

I became a kid in church who was nice and knew all of the answers, who loved Jesus, but who often lived a completely hypocritical life.  I want to rebel against this.  How do I do that?  I have very honest conversations with my kids about choices I made, regrets I have, and consequences I’ve faced.  I tell them that my stupidity is no excuse for them to do the same thing.  Kids are going to make mistakes, but I’d like them to make their own, not the same dumb ones I did.

Rebel and Repeat.  What parts of growing up are you going to turn away from?  What habits or examples are you going to refuse to let dominate your family?  And what examples to you want to make foundational in your household?

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

You’ve been given an incredible teaching tool for the raising of your kids—your own childhood.  What conversations are you going to have, what stories are you going to tell, what examples are you going to set to enable your kids to Rebel and Repeat in the best way possible?  Remember, they’ll be raising your grandkids!!!

Thanks mom and dad!

Four Ways God Shaped Me Through Being a Pastor’s Kid

The following is a guest post from one of my favorite human beings.  Davis Price is a graduating senior from our church, and one of the best people you will meet.  In addition to a fun podcast interview I did with him here, I asked Davis to share his thoughts on how being a pastor’s kid shaped his life.  Enjoy.  And if you don’t personally know Davis, you’re mission out.

Four Ways God Shaped Me Through Being a Pastor’s Kid

As a pastor’s kid, I’ve grown up completely drenched in Baptist culture. Therefore, I’ve been to more potluck dinners than I can count, and spent many hours in Sunday school, Wednesday night services, church camps etc. With all of this in mind, I think that being a pastor’s kid has given me a tremendous advantage, spiritually, relationally, and in terms of my work ethic. Here’s four ways that God has shaped me through being a pastor’s kid.

First off, as a 17-year-old, I’ve had more ministry opportunities than most Christians might get in a lifetime.  For instance, I went on my first international mission trip when I was seven, and my family started serving through foster care when I was eight. God gave me these opportunities to grant me perspective on a worldly scale, not only of how blessed I am, but more importantly, how God has blessed us to be a blessing to others – not only with our finances, but with our time, our prayers, our homes.

Another way God has shaped me is placing higher standards on me. As a pastor’s kid, I’ve gotten to live under higher scrutiny, because of the much higher potential consequences for my family. The adults in the church usually know who I am as well, and they have elevated expectations for me as well. Although I used to see these standards as an obstacle to enjoying life, I’ve seen how God has used them to protect me from more unwise decision making.

God has also shaped me through giving me early practice in meaningful relationships, especially with older adults. When I was four or five, my dad took me out of preschool and let me walk around and “help” the church janitor, Bill. Bill would play games with us, and have my brother and I do talent shows, (I would always win). I still talk to Bill on a weekly basis, and he never ceases to make me laugh, and always asks me what’s going on in my life. Doug Ericson is a man who has modeled well for me how a Godly man should live, and should love others, and he has spent so many hours encouraging me to walk with God. Whether it’s studying the bible together, going to watch basketball, or an encouraging text, God has blessed me by surrounding me with wise men who are willing, and eager to invest in my life.

The most impactful way God has shaped me through being a pastor’s kid is the family I’ve gotten to grow up with. Both biological, and my greater church family have molded me into the person I am today. Since my dad preaches, I’ve been at church every Sunday I was in town, and therefore been active since birth. The vast amount of time in my life that’s been dedicated to church has given me a solid foundation in terms of biblical doctrine, as well as biblical story knowledge. More than all of this though, as a pastor’s kid, my dad not only leads our church body well, but he runs our home even better. He loves and serves others like no other, and I’ve gotten to witness many people come and live with us for extended periods of time, because when there’s a need, my dad looks to fill it. The model of authentic love and a servant’s heart are things that I hope to pass on to my children.

Although being a pastor’s kid brings higher standards and higher scrutiny, it has made me want to seek God because I have been blessed to see what families who strive to serve God look like. Their lives are usually more difficult or chaotic, but their reward is so much greater. Being a part of a church family where we really love each other, and really love Jesus and want to serve him is a bigger blessing than anything I could imagine.

LPOP 20 An Interview With A Smart Teenager

Davis Price is one of my favorite people in the world, and is graduating high school this year after 7 years in our youth ministry.  In this interview, I ask him about life, understanding adulthood, and the influence that a healthy church has made on his life.

13 Reasons Why Need to Pay Attention to This Show

In case you’ve been going about your life without spending too much time thinking about fictional events, there’s a new show on Netflix that’s the consuming teenagers.  Or rather, teenagers are consuming it.
13 Reasons Why is a show about the suicide of teenager Hannah Baker.  She leaves behind a set of 13 tapes that are to be passed around to classmates.  Each tape gives one of the reasons why she committed suicide. Each episode covers one tape, and each tape focuses on one person who had a major influence in her decision to kill herself.

Fun stuff.  So when is the next superhero movie coming out?

As unappealing as all of this sounds you really need to pay attention to this show, talk about it with your kids, and possibly even watch it yourself.  Maybe not all of it, but some of it.  If your kids are old enough, and they want to watch it, make them really uncomfortable and watch it with them.  I’ve only watched one so far, I’m committed to watching at least a few more just to be able to competently talk about it.  But from what I’ve seen and read, here are 13 Reasons Why you should pay attention to this show if your kids are older than 3rd grade:

  1. “Everybody’s” talking about it.  Or at least enough of them to make it unavoidable if your child interacts with peers.  My ninth grade daughter has not seen any of them (and doesn’t want to at this time, we’ve got enough real life drama), but she knows the entire plot of every show because of school discussions.
  2. Kids are binge watching this.  The series was released with all thirteen episodes at one time.  Many kids are consuming the entire show in all of it’s non-glory in a single day.
  3. The show brings up some real, important issues that many of our kids or their friends are facing.  I’ll go into them below, but the point is that this fictional show can spark great conversation about real topics.
  4. The show depicts social media bullying and the consequences of how a risqué picture can be turned against you.  In this show Hannah was relatively innocent when the picture was taken (except for lying to her mom, sneaking out, and making out with a dude she barely knew).  But it still destroyed her reputation in school.  Lots of good stuff to talk about there.
  5. There are graphic rape scenes in one or two of the episodes.  You should know this before allowing your kids to watch it.
  6. The last show actually shows her committing suicide by slicing her wrists in a bathtub.  It’s graphics and shocking.  But there’s a perverse way in which some might find it alluring and cool.
  7. From what I see, parents tend to come across as disinterested, disengaged, or idiots. Also there’s a really unfair depiction of the school guidance counselor who also gets blamed for her death, since he wasn’t a psychic who knew off the bat the validity of everything Hannah told him.
  8. Plenty of drinking, drug use, and generally foolish teenage lifestyle choices are shown.
  9. The supposed purpose of the show is to how we should be kind to one another to keep people from killing themselves.  Given the context of the show, it’s naive, foolish, and impossible considering how Hannah even blames people who were basically nice to her and genuinely cared about her.
  10. For a show that’s supposed to be against bullying, the entire premise is perverse.  13 Reasons Why is a revenge fantasy where the dead girl gets to manipulate and destroy everyone’s life for making them feel responsible for her death when there’s nothing  left for them to do to make it right.
  11. Mental health counselors are very concerned about the show, as it glorifies suicide and might very well inspire unbalanced kids to create their own suicide-revenge fantasies.
  12. The show starts to feel like a caricature.  Every bad thing that happens to anyone happens to this girl.  Impossible things when you start adding them all up.  But let me point this out as well: everybody has bad stuff happen to them.  The world is broken.  We have to be resilient, and the ability to press through darkness and despair is what’s truly wonderful about humanity.
  13. OK, I’ve only watched one show so far, but I can already see a disturbing pattern that others affirm carries through the show.  Hannah makes tons of stupid choices.  She lies, manipulates, gets herself into bad situations.  But there’s no ownership of that.  It’s everyone else’s fault.

OK, I need to stop, because I promised 13 reasons.  Maybe I’ll write a bonus “13 MORE reasons” after I watch a few more shows.

So what should you do?

  • Talk to your kids about the show.  Ask if they’ve watched it, ask if their friends have watched it.  Ask what’s being said about it.  Ask if they want to watch it.
  • If they want to watch it (and haven’t), and you think they are mature enough to handle it, watch it with them.  Make an agreement together to watch it as believers in Jesus who are looking for the brokenness and sinful thinking that’s causing so much havoc in everyone’s life.
  • If they don’t want to watch it or you don’t want them to, talk through some of the responses and reactions they might have with friends who are talking about the show.  As ambassadors of Jesus, what are big or subtle ways they can be salt and light in those conversations.
  • Ask about who they know who might have experienced similar circumstances as those portrayed in the show.  How might your child respond or help them?
  • By all means, Pay Attention To What Your Kids Have Access To, What They Watch, What They Listen To!  You remember being a kid.  We’re sneaky, curious, and like to push limits.  Times were tough enough back then.  But the access to media and social media your kids have is beyond anything we could have imagined.  The stuff deemed suitable for 13 year olds to watch is wicked.  It’s hard, it seems never ending, but it’s our job.

You’re the shepherd of the little hearts in your home.  Guard your flock.

Training for Disobedience

A good friend of mine recently asked me a great question.  I’ll paraphrase it here:

“My son who us now 5 has grown up in a Christian home. He has grown up knowing he is a sinner, knowing Jesus came to earth and died to save him. He knows the only way to heaven is to love Jesus.  When something goes wrong he takes it to Jesus.  At what point do u allow him to get baptized and start taking Communion.  I honestly believe he believes in Jesus as much as anyone I know because he has been trained to.

He also believes red is red because he has been taught to believe that. Does it really make since to sit down and say do you really believe red is red?  In other words, would it make since to sit down and ask or lead him in the sinners prayer when I already see personal faith and hope in his actions?”

Man, I love this question.  I love the person who asked it.  I love knowing that he grew up with a dad who showed no spiritual interest in his life, but now has become such a tender shepherd of his own children that they naturally want to follow Jesus.  I love the desire to lead well but also not force or manipulate anything with his child.  AND I love not having to come up with every topic for these weekly blogs and podcasts.  So THANK YOU!

And now to the answer.

Something like 90% of people who follow Christ do so between the ages of 4-14.  Most are going to do this, not because they understand every nuance of theology and have weighed it against all other options, but because they have been taught by people that they trust, they believe it to be true, and most importantly, because the Holy Spirit has quickened their heart to believe.  I know I came to Christ as a child.  I did so because I grew up in a good church with a set of parents who reflected Jesus.  I was taught solidly the truth of Heaven, Sin, Hell, and the Gospel.  I know I repeated a prayer after a Sunday School teacher once, and I got a sticker.  I think I raised my hand once in kids church.  But the moment I’ve always gone back to was an afternoon alone, in my bedroom, where I felt compelled to pray and ask Jesus to help me know for sure that I was going to go be with him forever in Heaven and not go to Hell.  After a few minutes of pleading with him, I had this flood of peace, and I knew I could stop praying.  I ran down and jumped in my parent’s lap and told mom and dad that I knew I would be with Jesus.  I was six.  The following year, I was baptized on Easter Sunday with my cousin Becky.

So which moment was the moment of my salvation?  I don’t know.  And ultimately it doesn’t matter.  Let me give you a little secret: I have no recollection of my actual birth.  Not one detail of that day.  But I know I was born.  There’s evidence of it.  And I knew I belonged to Jesus, because I loved him, I was following Him, I had a tender conscious towards the things of God, and I has asked His forgiveness of my sins.

As parents, especially with younger children, we are going to have to make judgement calls in regards to the commands of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  As I read Scripture, I clearly read that these are for believers, not for babies, not for seekers.  But they’re also not for seasoned, mature, or theologically enlightened believers.

I have four children.  Three have followed Jesus in baptism (or “bathtism”, depending on their lisp) at a young age.  None remember a specific moment of salvation.  But in each child, we followed through with Baptism following these specific steps:

  1. They were showing basic evidence of love of God, understanding of salvation, and trust in Jesus.
  2. They had been instructed in the course of normal Bible teaching that followers of Jesus get baptized to show they identify with him.
  3. They asked us if they could be baptized.

I have a fourth child who as also asked to be baptized, but I don’t yet see an elementary understanding of the gospel or evidence that Jesus has their heart.  I’m praying it will come.  But it’s not there yet.

As a parent and a pastor, I have become more concerned with training believers in selective obedience rather than accidentally baptizing too early.  It’s the same with the Lord’s Supper.  These are commands for new believers, and if your child is expressing evidence of a love of Jesus, and understanding that they are trusting Him for the paying of their sins, and a desire to do these things out of obedience, I think that’s good enough.  There is no biblical precedent for “the sinners prayer” for these things.

My concern is that by delaying baptism for months or year, we have set a dangerous precedent with our kids.  I’m afraid that we are teaching them “Jesus gives us commandments, but we can pick and choose which ones to obey and when to obey them.”  I’d much rather train for obedience to Jesus, and then if my child gets older and claims “I really did not love God or believe in him, but now I do”, I can deal with that then and celebrate their new heart.

Many teens I know want to get baptized a second time, because they say they didn’t really understand it as a child.  I don’t forcibly object, but i do council in this way:  you don’t have to totally understand it, and you still don’t totally understand it.  The question is, to the best of your knowledge, as a child did you give your heart to Jesus and trust Him for salvation?  If yes, then you don’t need to be baptized again.  If no, then let’s do it and celebrate.

Obviously there are nuances to this discussion, but the big question to me is whether we’re training our families to be quick obeyers of Jesus.  Speaking of which: mom and dad, have you been quick obeyers of Jesus in following Him in Baptism?

If not, it’s time to start obeying.  All the way, right away, and with a happy heart!

3 Ways to Encourage Gratitude

I’m not a runner, but sometimes I pretend to be one.  As time goes on, the more I feel like I’m pretending.  Perhaps you’ve been a runner at one point in your life, or maybe you’re one now.  If so, you might relate to the following phenomenon:

When I run, if there’s a breeze, I am always conscious of it as I’m running into it.  The headwind feels like it’s slowing me down, making me work twice as hard to go at the same pace, sapping my energy.  If I can help it, I try to run first into the headwind, so that when I turn to go back home I can enjoy the boost from the tailwind.

Every time I turn, however, a strange thing always happens.  I feel that tailwind for about 15-30 seconds, and then it disappears.  It’s as if moments after I start running with the wind at my back, the wind dies.  What a bummer!  I fight all of that time through the wind, only to lose out when the wind should be my friend.  But then, the most remarkable thing of all happens—I look to the trees beside me and I see that the wind is still moving them!  How is this possible?

The reality is that it isn’t possible.  Well, I guess it’s possible, but not probable.  Most of the time, the wind is still at my back, I’ve just ceased noticing its affect shortly after gaining it as an advantage.

What a metaphor for life.

I have been thinking about this ever since listening to a Freakonomics podcast on this very subject.  It seems to be a normal human condition to really notice our disadvantages while glossing over our advantages.  Think about your body.  How many body parts are working really well right now?  The answer is probably “most of them”.  But which ones do you notice?  The broken ones.  How much food do you have in your home?  Likely, more than you’ll ever eat.  But if you run out of milk in the morning or miss out on your coffee, it’s a mini crisis.

If you think about it, we are among the most advantaged, most resourced human beings who have ever existed.  Most of the kings who have ever ruled would give up their kingdom to experience what we do on a daily basis.  We have multiple varieties of protein from tasty, disease free animals, multiple times a day.  We can adjust the entire climate of our home to within one degree.  We can poop in a hole and it magically disappears.  I got strep throat recently, and within 5 hours I was on antibiotics and back to work within a day.  My truck has the power of at least 120 horses, and in a given week I can travel more miles than most humans ever did in their lifetimes.  I’ve never buried a child.  I’ve buried a wife, but she had plenty of access to the gospel, and knew Jesus passionately.

The list is endless.

Yet I don’t walk around in wonder and awe of these things.  I think about what’s wrong, or what could be wrong.

I’m what’s wrong.

Maybe you’re what’s wrong too.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:8  

Have you ever wondered what God’s will was for your life?  Have you ever wanted Him to specifically tell you?  Well, He just did.

Normal human behavior is to become very accustom to the advantages built into our lives, to take them for granted.  At the same time we are very skilled at focusing on what’s missing or off.

Gratitude is hard work, but it’s a work we are commanded to do, and it’s one of the greatest works we can do to change our present circumstances, and that of our kids.

I’ve made it my mission to shepherd my family into a lifestyle of gratitude.  This means I must first model it, and then encourage it.  No more getting angry when they are not thankful for what they have.  Instead, I want to be a tour guide, daily pointing out the multiple levels of amazing with which God has graced us.

I’ll finish with three practical steps for you to encourage a culture of gratitude in your home:

  • Do a “check in” at breakfast or on the way to school, at the dinner table, and/or at bedtime.  Ask each family member to share their “rose” for the day.
  • When bickering starts among members of the family, make them pause until they can say five genuinely nice things about one another.
  • Check out the Global Rich List.  See where your family ranks among the wealthiest humans in the world (you’re going to be shocked).  Combine that with a month long quest to make a family list of all of the ways your family has been given advantages over someone in the bottom 10% of the world.

Gratitude is hard work.  It always will be.  But it’s good work.

So get to work.

The Valley of the Shadow and Easter

In light of Easter Week I wanted to share something I wrote from the hospital room of my son three years ago on Easter Sunday.  I pray it’s an encouragement to you.  Happy Easter, He is Risen Indeed!

April 20 – Easter Sunday 3AM
If someone were to ask me “why did God allow Elijah to get Leukemia?” I think I would have to say “because he wanted to show us how much he loves us”.

As we begin day seven of this new journey, I think about what this day seventh day, Resurrection Sunday, really means.

One week ago today, Elijah had death running through his veins, and we did not know it. The signs were there if you knew what to look for, but we were not looking. Lately Elijah had been fatigued a bit easier, his skin color was a bit more pale, he had some fevers bouncing around at strange times. But in a busy house with four kids, the signs were so subtle, we just had no idea what was going on.

And then we get a deadly, life-saving pneumonia. One week ago our little boy begins to spike a high fever, and his deep cough worsens. Monday morning, annoyed because our new insurance hasn’t rolled over into his pediatric physicians office, we begrudgingly take him to the ER for what we think will be an antibiotic and some breathing treatments. I don’t even go with Emily and Elijah originally, but come over to lend some support when they decide to put an IV bag in him to replace fluids. Sitting by his bed, working on my schedule for the next few weeks, the kind doctor gives us the news that will alter the trajectory of our lives: “you have a very sick little boy, I’m afraid his blood tests look like he might have Leukemia. We are transferring him to St. Mary’s children’s hospital right away.”

The following hours feel like days. I ride in the back of an ambulance with thoughts of panic between a growing mountain of texts that begin pouring in. I share them with my feeble boy, who is still taking in the wonder of his first ever ambulance ride: “Elijah, Rod says he’s praying for you. Pastor Matt told me to tell you his praying for you and asking Jesus to heal you. Pastor Bob just told me that he’s praying for you right now.” There is a paramedic in the back seat, he says that it seems like we are really involved with our church. He and his wife are intending to find a church, but haven’t really gotten around to it. I think I tell him something about how we trust in Jesus for our salvation and hope, but I also tell him “this isn’t the only reason, but at some point in your life there’s going to be a day where you’re really going to need a community to be there for you. And when that time comes, it’s too late to find that community.” Sitting in the back of the ambulance, I couldn’t fathom how much the community of Jesus would be there for us in this first week.

In the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of St. Marys, we get life saving blood, platelets, fluid, and oxygen. Elijah’s skin goes from yellow to pale, which is a major improvement. We are also told by the initial doctor that we must wait several days before a specific diagnosis. This first night is miserable. We trust God for eternity, but I know that doesn’t mean that things always work out on earth like we want. I take the first night’s watch at the hospital, and I lay beside him weeping, crushed, not knowing how I will be able to breathe if my boy dies. How long will we have to wait for good news? And will there be good news?

The next morning I am taken off guard when the Oncology Dr. and his team show up and tell me they have a diagnosis. The initial doctor was wrong, the lab test don’t take several days. We definitively know that Elijah has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My firstborn son has Cancer, but it’s the good Leukemia, with above a 90% cure rate. Treatment begins immediately. It will last years, but they tell me they are very optimistic our son will live.

Life by death. This is the way of Leukemia. Over the next days and weeks and months, they will introduce a mixture of chemicals to Elijahs body that will kill all of the Leukemia cells in his body, but will also kill a good deal of other things. Nurses put on masks, gloves, and protective gowns just to hang bags of these chemicals from the IV pole. It sounds horrible, because it is. But I am already familiar with life by death.

Yesterday, as we get set to push the largest dose of a chemo drug who’s possible side effects include severe allergic reaction or sudden death, I work on a lego project with Rich Mullin’s “Hold Me Jesus” playing on repeat on my phone. I echo the chorus as my prayer: “Hold me Jesus, cause I’m shaking like a leaf. You have been king of my glory, won’t you be my Prince of Peace”. I’m reminded that Elijah is receiving a large dose of death on the day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, and the parallels are striking. The Leukemia has been present for far longer that we were aware. In his blood, originating in his very bones. It is a sentence of death. As a matter of fact, several decades ago some very dear friends of mine were given this very same diagnosis when there was no cure. They were given a projection of two years with their son, and he went to Jesus within seven days of that two year mark. The family allowed his body to be autopsied for research, making their little boy a link in the reprieve of life that is now possible for Elijah. So we have a killer in his body, and they only hope from this death is to introduce death. It makes perfect sense to me, because I am so very aware of the sickness in my soul. I know the good things I want to do, and I don’t do them. The very things I hate, I find myself doing. There is a spiritual death in me, and the only freedom from this death is through death. As I sit watching my son, I am reminded that God sacrificed his very own Son to bring me from spiritual death into life. My sin has been redeemed by the death of Jesus Christ, and the proof comes with what we celebrate in the morning. Resurrection Sunday.

The treatment is ready. Emily and I get down on our knees and pray in the name of Jesus and by the power of His blood, for God to heal the blood of our boy. We pray for the chemo to kill the bad stuff and leave the good stuff alone. It seems like half the country is praying for this little boy. The treatment begins, we pass the time with some very open conversations with Elijah’s nurse. He shows no negative signs from the chemo treatment. Emily and I rejoice and get a few hours away at dinner thanks to her parents.

While at dinner we talk about what a strange week this has been. Not a horrible week, a strange week. We have received some of the most terrifying news of our life, but we are given a hopeful course of action with an amazing team in an unbelievable hospital. Our children are scattered and we haven’t seen our front door since Monday, but we have never felt more loved in our lives. When I said that I think Leukemia has been God’s way to show us that He loves us, I mean it. Words of encouragement, texts, letters, gifts, acts of love have poured in like nothing I’ve ever seen. We have lost the emotional capacity to keep up. Luke 6:38 says “give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” It’s as if God said, “I need to show the world how I lavish love”, and he picked our family as the example. I tell Emily that I wish that every person in the world got to tangibly feel loved like we have been loved this week. I wish they would understand that this is what the church is. The church is Jesus’ plan to heal the world, and the church has been the hands and feet of Jesus to our family. I want everyone to get to experience this. The love of God has been poured out in absurd ways this week. If you’re reading this, in some way you’ve been a part of that. Thank you. We love you. We truly feel like we have been swept up in the arms of Jesus. There’s no possible way for us to repay you, you’ve carried us along in our greatest hour of need.

We know that hour is not over. It may get worse before it gets better. There’s going to be more sickness, more pain, more fear, many more tears. We don’t know the outcome of this leukemia battle. But we do know that its Resurrection Sunday, and the ultimate battle has been won. We don’t want our son to have cancer. But even more than that, we don’t want people to be trapped in their own spiritual sickness. We’ve been condemned by our own sin but salvation has been won and is offered as a gift. We walk in the valley of the shadow, but today of all days, it’s High Noon in the Valley of the Shadow. Today is a day of rejoicing.

And the demons, they danced in the darkness
When that last ragged breath left his lungs
And they reveled and howled
At the war that they thought they had won

But then, in the dark of the grave
The stone rolled away
In the still of the dawn on the greatest of days

High noon in the valley of the shadow
When the shadows were shot through with light
When Jesus took in that breath
And shattered all death with his life
So long, you wages of sin
Go on, don’t you come back again
I’ve been raised and redeemed
You’ve lost all your sting
To the victor of the battle
High noon in the valley of the shadow

Let the people rejoice
Let the heavens resound
Let the name of Jesus, who sought us
And freed us forever ring out

All praise to the fighter of the night
Who rides on the light
Whose gun is the grace of the God of the sky

High noon in the valley of the shadow
When the shadows were shot through with light
When the mouth of the tomb
Shouted, “Glory, the Groom is alive”
So long, you wages of sin
Go on, don’t you come back again
I’ve been raised and redeemed
All praise to the king
The victor of the battle
High noon in the valley
In the valley of the shadow

Happy Easter!

Responding vs. Reacting

When I was little, I loved Mad Magazine.  (I know, shame on me).  One of my favorite running bits in the magazine was called “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”.  The title is fairly self explanatory, and I not only loved reading the biting sarcasm, I loved coming up with my own.  If I hadn’t become a Christian, I might be writing for Mad today, because I really enjoy putting people into place for their foolish comments.

Thankfully, I gave my heart to Jesus, and He’s been sanctifying it for the last 33 years.  But I still have to watch my tongue, because it so enjoys a biting comeback.

In case you haven’t noticed, most people don’t enjoy being the subject of biting comebacks.  They don’t like the comebacks when they’re angry.  They don’t like them when they are funny and demeaning.  They don’t even care if you were really clever.  They just feel hurt and angry.  Take this feeling, multiply it by the loads of insecurity, hormones, and feelings of powerlessness kids often feel, and it’s not shocking to realize that children and teens don’t really take our harsh reactions well.

I know.  It’s hard.  Sometimes they do shockingly dumb things.  But we need to take care that our words don’t wound deeper than the actual situation calls for.  Remember, in every emotional situation, there are at least two levels of eduction happening with your children.  The first is the lesson you are verbally trying to teach them.  The second (and more impactful) is the nonverbal way you’re training them to react to tense, pressure-filled situations.  When we react with over the top words or emotions, we’re not only making it harder for our kids to really understand the primary lesson we’re trying to teach them, but we’re also training them on how they should react in tense situations.  Are they going to yell?  Are they going to bring in multiple past transgressions?  Are they going storm off angrily?  We all have a sin nature, but these are primarily learned behaviors from the grown ups in their life.  They will do what you do far more than they will do what you say.

So, in the very near future, when you find yourself in a scenario where you typically react with harsh, biting, or loud words, take a moment to gather how you might respond.  Perhaps you should memorize this verse, and as you take your deep breath, recall it:

Proverbs 15:1   A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Then follow these three steps:

  1. Pray “God give me grace for this moment”.  It’s impossible to maintain your emotions apart from the grace of God.
  2. Ask “What can I teach them right now?” You (or they) may be so frustrated that you can’t teach much of anything.  So perhaps the response is, “this is important and I’m not sure what to do, let’s schedule a time to talk about this when we both get some self control”.  Your delaying of the talk (and consequence) for the sake of relationship might be the most important lesson of the day.
  3. Consider the context:  Think about what’s causing this behavior or action in your child.  Is something new or different going on?  I have  a great friend who is a counselor, and he always says “Behavior should make us curious”.  There’s always a “why” behind the “what”, even when we can’t see it right away.  And most always, the “why” is the most important question.

You’re not going to get this right all the time, but with practice and a LOT of grace from God, you will get better.  So will they.

Big Picture Praying

The funny thing about the most important parts of life is that they are rarely the most immediate.  For instance, I’d like to lose ten pounds.  But I’d also like to finish off that bottle of Magic Shell in my cabinet.  (Disclaimer – I am totally willing to make this a for profit blog, underwritten by Magic Shell: the sweet chocolate coating that hardens into a crunchy shell when you pour it on top of ice cream)

The most underrated invention of the 20th century.

Since finishing off the Magic Shell is a much more tangible goal, maybe I should try it first, and that victory will give me the momentum to reach my long term goal of losing ten pounds.  Right?

Ok, so maybe that’s a bad example.  But it’s not hard to think of plenty of legitimate items in our life where we sacrifice the important on the alter of the immediate.

That would also be a great description of much of my prayer life.  Walking along each day, for someone who rarely actually worries about where their daily bread is coming from, I am mightily consumed with asking the Father to meet my daily needs.  And hey, that’s not a bad thing!  God loves me and delights to take care of his children!  But he also wants his children to grow up.

You see, now I have kids of my own, and I want to know that they relate to me as more than just a vending machine.  I want to know how they are doing, to hear their hopes and dreams.  To hear “thank you” sometimes.

And yet when I talk to my Father about my kids, it’s so very hard to think past the request of today.  Their needs feel ENORMOUS, and I desperately want God’s help!  But I confess that I found myself so consumed by my children’s (legitimate) immediate needs, I rarely spent time praying Big Picture items for them.

Here’s how I began praying long term prayers for my kids:

  1. I set aside time.  For me, this works best at the very beginning of the day, before the rest of the family gets up.  I wake up, grab my shoes, and slip out the front door.  In the quiet and darkness of my neighborhood, I could keep walking to stay awake, but not be distracted by people, activities, or anything else beyond an occasional bunny rabbit.
  2. I thought through a list for each child. For my boys, I pray that God would make them strong and that they would use that strength to take care of others.  For my girls, I pray that God would make them graceful to heal others.  For each one, I pray for their future spouse, begging God to shape and mold that person to love Jesus and love my kids well, begging God to give us wisdom to raise good husbands and wives.  For my adopted daughter, I pray God would heal her of the trauma of her first year of life, that he would make her brain and spirit thrive, and that she would come to know Jesus and love him deeply.  For my oldest daughter, I pray God would heal her of the pain and heartache of losing family members, hurtful relationships, and my poor parenting choices.  For my boys I pray that God would help the to be surrounded by good friends and to be good friends that point others to Jesus.  There’s more, but those are some of the big ones.
  3. I found a helpful piece of technology. (Note: here I want to give out a big thank you to Tim Challies at https://www.challies.com for introducing me to the ap and for overviewing his system, which I adopted with some modification) Earlier this year I was introduced to an ap called PrayerMate, and it literally changed my prayer life.  Each morning, each of my kids scrolls across the screen, and I pray one of these big picture requests each day for my kids.  I’ve never prayed them all in one day, but I feel like I’m praying for the most important things in their life every week.
Click here to download PrayerMate for Free!

If you don’t make an intentional plan to pray big picture prayers for your kids, it will never consistently happen.  The other consequence is that I am now being shaped by the very requests I’m making.  I’m a better parent with these things on my mind.

You don’t have to use my system, but you do need to have some system.  Don’t spend your entire prayer life on the urgent and immediate.  Your kids are worth it!

Relax your Grip

Have you ever tried to keep a firm grip on a handful of Jello?  The harder you squeeze, the greater the mess.  Trying to control your kid’s behavior can often turn out the same way.

Many of us have had the thought “I’d be such a better parent if I could control my kid’d decisions!”  But there are a few fallacies in that logic.

1)Your child is not a robot, and has a free will of their own.

2) You are a faulty human and blow choices all the time.  If you controlled every decision your child makes, they’d still make plenty of bad decisions!

3) Having total control is not nearly as fun and exciting as trying to guide an unpredictable free willed human being!

So what if the key to seeing better outcomes with your child’s decision making was actually to relax your grip?

Psychologist Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD, states that people of all ages don’t think of control in absolute terms, but rather subjectively based on the previous levels of control they’ve experienced.  What this means is that when we give our little ones too much decision making power, they feel much more offense as we get older and start reeling in their freedom.  We parents actually do this all the time, because most choices a little kid makes feel inconsequential over the long term, but choices in adolescence can affect the rest of their lives.  Sadly, many kids start with too much power and as a result live unhappy lives as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.

In the book Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Foster Cline and Jim Fay speak of “the V of Love” when it comes to setting limits and building responsibility.

When children are small, rather than telling them everything to do, we can give them limited choices that don’t bear much consequence one way or another.  For a toddler, this might be “Do you want the red or the blue cup”, and as they get a little older it might be “do you want to play soccer or basketball this year”.  The key is to give them actual, but limited, decision making power, over areas where you feel comfortable with any of the choices.  As they get older, you introduce more freedom, wider limits, and greater choice that comes with actual consequence.  Important parental skills at this point include always giving them choices you will actually be willing to uphold, and not caving in to bail them out.  But remember, they’re not always going to choose what you want.  Sometimes we need to consult them on their decision, let them choose poorly, and then let natural consequences take over.

The goal is that by the time your children are in the middle of high school, they should be responsible for most of the choices in their life, so that moving out and college isn’t a shock to their system or a time to break free of the shackles while breaking all of the 10 commandments before breakfast.

When it comes to teens, I love these points from Parenting Teens with Love and Logic:  “Don’t be greedy.  Never take any more control than you absolutely need to have.”  You want to avoid control battles at all costs, but when you’re absolutely forced into a control battle, win it at all costs.  Because the stakes are so high, you need to pick those battles carefully.

You can’t control what kind of music your child likes.  You can’t control who they are going to see at school and who they decide to befriend.  You can’t control how much they care about school, work, etc.  But you can give them a lifetime of realizing that they do have a choice, and that every choice has its consequences.  God willing, with a little wisdom and a little freedom, when they’re finally done growing up they will have internalized the values you could never force into them in the first place.

A Dad’s Thoughts on Dating Part 2

Last week I shared some of my critique of our current culture’s dating habits.   This week I’ll go the next step, assuming that a dating relationship has started.

I’ll start with a question – why don’t people go to years of therapy when they smash their thumb with a hammer?  It’s excruciating.  I think smashing my thumb is some of the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life.  It’s traumatic!

But within a few minutes or days, the pain is gone, and in a few months the black fingernail is gone.  All that’s left is a good story.

Contrast that with sexual experience.  There are those who try to say that sex is just a physical act, and as long as both people are consenting, they should be able to do what they want.  But we know that sex isn’t just physical.  It’s highly emotional, the mingling of mind, body, and spirit.  When people are violated sexually, it can take years to get over, if they indeed ever do.  So as a parent and a pastor, I want to reinforce that the stakes of sexual involvement are really high.

On the other hand, as a parent and a pastor, I want to reinforce the fact that  sex is awesome, amazing, and wonderful.  The same God that invented the taste buds that can appreciate the White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake invented sex!  We need to take back from the world the authority on sex.  WE have the right answers.

1 Thessalonians 4 is one of the very rare passages in the Bible that explicitly states God’s will for us.  When it does, it says that His will is for our sanctification, that we possess our body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles.  Given this truth, may I offer a quick bit of teaching on sex and how it pertains to dating (and a big thank you to several different Andy Stanley sermons and lessons that taught me these principles).

  • The Bible teaches that purity should be our aim.  But purity is not the end goal.  The end goal is intimacy.
  • True intimacy can be define as the joy of knowing someone, and being fully known, without fear of rejection.
  • Purity paves the way for intimacy.
  • People think that sex is primarily physical.  This is a lie.  Sex is primarily relational.
  • Teens are taught that they need to develop their sexual skills, when the reality is that they need to develop their relational skills.
  • The best place to practice relational skills is with family, and spiritually like-minded friends.
  • Sex is physical and relational glue.  It’s God’s gift for people who are going from two individuals to one flesh.  It’s the fun way to bond through mortgages, bad breath, work stress, and in-laws.
  • The problem comes when people spend this glue outside of marriage.  They bond with the wrong people at the wrong time, overlooking huge red flags in those they should avoid, not to mention stunting their relationship with God through sin.
  • Because of all of this, the question of “How far is too far?” is very important, but probably the wrong question.  A better question would be “How far do I want the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life to go, right before they meet me?”
  • Given all of this, as your teen sets their boundaries in physical relationships, remind them of these truths:
    • The further you go, the faster you go.
    • The further you go, the further you want to go
    • The further you go, the harder it is to go back
    • Where you draw the line determines 3 things:
      • The arena of your temptation
      • The intensity of your temptation
      • The consequences of giving in to your temptation

This is pretty dense, but really important.  Read through this list over and over, figure out how to make them your own words.  And TALK to your kids!!!

A Dad’s Thoughts on Dating Part 1

Note – you may be the parents of a child and think this topic doesn’t pertain to you.  Let me encourage you, CHILDHOOD is the time to start coaching your kids on dating and relationships, when they are FAR in the future!!!

A few years ago I remember driving through the middle of the night from my childhood home in West Virginia to where I currently live in Florida.  It was somewhere around 4AM and everyone in the van was asleep but me.  I was groggy, but I was thinking about my family.  I started thinking about my oldest daughter, and how much I love her.  And then I started thinking about the fact that one day some boy was going to ask her out.  After a few minutes I noticed that I was gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles and my adrenaline was pumping so hard I started to get the jitters.  I imagined all of the ways I could physically harm this boy, and it was a bit therapeutic.

Sadly, I’m a youth pastor, so I can’t really beat up young boys and stay employed.  So I do the next best thing.  I try to brainwash every kid about the fallacies of our modern dating structure and the wisdom of a better way.

Among the 7,000 things that tend to go wrong in dating relationships, I think there’s a fundamental flaw at the bottom of the way our culture approaches dating.

Romans 12:9-10 says “let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”  This is the opposite of the modern dating culture.

First off, the “love” is hypocritical.  People think that the best way to get to know someone is by dating them.  Unfortunately, most people are on there best (fake) behavior in the beginning parts of a relationship.  You don’t get to know the person, you get to know the caricature of the person, one who is pulling out every single stop to impress you.  It’s almost like two actors are going out.  By the time most people have really figured out who they are with, they’ve crossed some physical boundaries and the relationship has gotten much more complex.

This brings up my next issue.  Our dating culture doesn’t abhor what is evil and hold fast to the good.  It isolates the couple from other healthy relationships, amplifies this sense of physical and emotional possessiveness that makes people think that they “own” the other person even though there has been zero long term commitment.  The ownership of the other person’s time and emotions quickly leads to a sense of sexual ownership.  What’s next?  Compromise, broken hearts, and regret.

Finally, because the typical pattern of dating doesn’t start with a basis of friendship, there’s much less urgency to be devoted to one another in brotherly love or outdo one another in honor.  How many times have we heard “I could never date them, they’re too good of a friend”?  Why do we say that?  Often it’s because we value the friendship and don’t want to ruin it with a bad dating experience.  By default, though, this means that with the normal people we date we don’t value the friendship as much.  Which means we don’t protect them.

As a dad who made plenty of mistakes as a teenager, I offer these pieces of advice for parents to influence their kids (when it’s time for them to start dating)

  1. When it’s time for you to start dating, only date people that are already your friends.  Why?  Because this will make you be much more selective about dating, and you’ll not be willing to hurt your friend if you’re pretty confident that the long term relationship won’t work out.
  2. When it’s time for you to start dating, only date in groups, for a very long time.  Why?  Because there’s safety in numbers.  Because there’s much less pressure to be someone you’re not and do things you shouldn’t.  Because you should crave the wisdom and advice of your friends that can also get to know the other person and see how you are together.  Because if you’re in a group you’ll be much less likely to see daddy lurking in the background with a hammer in case the boy tries bad things.
  3. When it’s time for you to date, be clear that they don’t own you, your time, or your body.  Beyonce was only right about one thing ever.  “If you like it then you should’ve put a ring on it.”  Until that time, they’re just a boy or girl that you’re enjoying and growing in interest. But they don’t own you.  Be free.  Most of your life, you won’t be.
  4. When your’e analyzing who to be with, don’t think primarily about how well they treat you. Why?  Because if they like you, they’re going to be pulling out all of the stops to impress you.  You’re going to get a false impression of who they are.  Instead, look at how they treat the person from whom they have nothing to gain.  THIS is who they really are.  One day, they will treat you that way.

This is plenty for now.  Next week I’ll share some thoughts on coaching your kids about physical relationships.  Gulp.

When Your Child Suffers

April 14, 2017 will mark three years since the day we were told my son had leukemia.  I remember so many details from that day.  Mindlessly sitting by his hospital bed when we just thought he had pneumonia.  The look on the doctor’s face as he gave us the initial news.  The scream of shock from my wife.  A conversation with the paramedic in the back of the ambulance about the body of Christ when the bomb goes off in your life.  The pale face.  Other people’s blood pumping into his body.  Laying beside his bed in the PICU at St. Mary’s, weeping through the night.  The fear of looking up leukemia on my phone because I didn’t want to go down 1,000 hypothetical roads.  Praying.  Silence.  Praying. The feeling that I am numb but that my heart might burst at any moment.  The fear of what will happen to my little boy. This was a long, grueling day.  But it wasn’t the worst day of my life.

Twelve and a half years earlier I remember the worst twelve hour span of my life.  I had lain down after a brutal day of bringing my wife home from the hospital, too sick for surgery.  Running on fumes in the realm of sleep, hope, and joy, I drifted off early in my mother-in-law’s bed with my 3 year old daughter sleeping beside me.  Minutes later, my wife’s mother runs into the room to tell me that Christy had collapsed.  Within minutes we are performing CPR on her lifeless body.  The ambulance ride.  The waiting room at the ER.  The grim news from the doctor that I already knew.  Going back home.  Roaming the streets of my hometown in the middle of the night.  Finally crawling back into bed beside my daughter just before dawn, who had slept through the entire ordeal, not knowing what I could possibly say to her when she woke.  Getting up, sitting in the living room with grandparents.  My little girl finally wandering out of the bedroom, crawling into my lap, and asking “where’s mommy”?  This is the very worst moment of my life.

The worst moments of my life haven’t been things that have happened to me.  My worst moments have revolved around the suffering of my kids.  I hate it.  I feel powerless to fix it.  I want to take it away, but I can’t.

This may very well be the hardest part of parenting, and the one that stretches your faith the most.  How are you going to respond when your child is suffering?  Maybe you’re there right now.  What should you do?

I can’t fix your problems, but I do want to try to offer you a little bit of perspective.  I would have never picked the particular formats in which my kids have suffered, but I do know one thing to be true: every single person I’ve met in life that has the kind of character I want has suffered deeply.  They’ve been wounded in a profound way, and somehow the grace that comes out of their healing is the most attractive character quality in the world.  God’s working something into you, and in your kids, that just can’t get there otherwise.

So let me encourage you with a few thoughts as you or your child goes through a time of suffering:

  1. Be Honest – You don’t have to pretend that things aren’t bad or that they don’t hurt.  Just because other people have been through worse events doesn’t make your pain any less real.  And being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from suffering or make all of the pain go away.  Jesus Himself, when he was minutes away from calling Lazarus out of the grave, wept at the funeral.
  2. Be patient – We live in an instant everything society, but there are some things that just don’t fix quickly.  God seems to really enjoy taking His time with the most important things, and you don’t want to spend your life wishing away every moment as you seek relief from the suffering.  Things might be bad, but there is good happening in the bad.  Look for it, soak it up, and don’t be in such a hurry.
  3. Be hopeful – Remember, it’s not always going to be like this.  Nothing is.  My worst days of despair are when I start thinking that it’s always going to be like it is today.  But that’s just never true.  Loneliness isn’t always going to be like it is right now.  Neither is pain.  Even if a condition persists for this life, we are eternal creatures.  It WILL get better.
  4. Be a blessing – The best way to life your eyes off of your misery is to put your eyes on the needs of someone else.  This is a great practice for your kids as they suffer to.  Rather than wallow in the self pity of the moment, look for ways that you can offer hope to others that are going through hard times.

Ultimately, I think that it’s not suffering that’s the problem, it’s the idea of meaningless suffering.  But as God’s children, there’s nothing He allows us to walk through that’s meaningless.  Seek out the meaning, soak it up.  And take heart.  The sun will rise again in the morning!

What’s Your Parenting Style?

What’s your parenting style?

In my mind I’m a pretty rational, consistent guy.  I make choices based on logic and reason, and I can be counted on to do what’s right and most logical in a given situation.

But in reality, I know that sometimes my parenting “technique” has a lot to do with my mood, the time of day, what I’ve had to eat, which kid is in front of me, and a whole assortment of other issues.

The truth is we are all much less consistent than we’d like to be.  But we do have general patterns that we fall into.  In their book Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Foster Cline and Jim Fay discuss three general parenting styles and the effects they have on kids over the long term.  Check these out and see where you fit:

The Helicopter Parent – Helicopters are excellent for emergency situations, but in general they make a lot of noise, wind, and chaos.  It’s hard to get “normal” life done with a helicopter hovering overhead.  Out of tremendous love and concern for their children, the helicopter parent will tend to hover over their kids, swooping in to save the day.  Helicopter parents are afraid of their child’s failures, both large and small, and swoop in to rescue them, whether it’s a broken bone or a missing homework assignment.  What are some consequences of helicopter parenting?

  • Kids don’t learn to do things on their own and lack confidence needed to thrive in the real world
  • They develop the habit of blaming others for their failure
  • Resentment develops between parents and kids.  Parents expect kids to be super thankful, but kids resent the nagging, the constant presence, and the times when mom and dad don’t swoop in an rescue them.

The Drill Sergeant – Drill sergeants motivate through fear and intimidation.  They get things done, but it’s generally not because their soldiers want to do the work.  They’re just afraid of getting yelled at and punished.  Drill sergeant parents work much in the same way.  They can get their kids moving, run a tight ship, and perhaps even for a time keep the kids out of trouble.  But soldiers don’t really ever develop a fond relationship with their drill sergeants, and kids live emotionally distant from drill sergeant parents.  The motivation for doing right and wrong is “am I going to get caught, and what will happen”? Consequences include:

  • Decisions are not based in wisdom of what’s right, but rather “will I get in trouble?”
  • Kids lack trust in parents to admit when they’ve messed up.
  • Parent looked at as the aviary to be avoided or appeased.

The Consultant – In grown up land, consultants are not brought in to do other people’s work.  They also don’t cannot make anyone do work.  They analyze, enlighten, and advise.  But at the end of the day, it’s up to the business to put in the effort to make changes.  The consultant can remain honest and encouraging, but they’re not emotionally attached to every move their client makes – the consultant gets paid for the analysis and advice, not implementing the plan.  In the same way, a parent can strive to be their child’s consultant, especially as they age.  Parents can point out the reality of the situation, advise on options, but leave the implementation-and the consequences-to the child.  It’s certainly harder in the short term than swooping in and saving the day, or unloading one’s emotions until the child conforms in obedience, but over the long haul it’s not only easier, it’s more enjoyable.  Benefits of a consultant parenting style include:

  • Freedom from emotional manipulation by the parent or child to get what they want.
  • Open dialogue and a lower level of fear to reveal mistakes.
  • Kids that are molded to make decisions based on what’s wise and right, not based on what they can get away with.
  • A release for mom and dad from feeling like they have to save the day when things go bad.  Empathy and natural consequences work WAY better to change behavior than anger and emotion.

I’ll talk more about these in the future, but that’s a quick overview.  Feel free to listen to the podcast of this episode for more insight.

What about you?  What style describes you best?  Where do you want to be?  I’d love to hear from you!

Seriously Funny

Michael Jr. is a fantastic comedian who also really loves Jesus.  In this Ted Talk he shares how his struggles and trails became the setup for offering something good to the world.  This would be a really fun video to watch with your teens (the humor will go over the little one’s heads) and talk about how God might use the challenges in their life to be a blessing to many.

 

What’s the Point of Sexual Purity?

It’s February, and romance is in the air.  Or maybe that’s the aroma of the mass marketing machine that creates a fake holiday to pressure us into buying more stuff.

Either way, I’ve used each February for the last few years as an excuse for teaching about God’s design and plan for sex.  It was all fun and games until one year I looked up and my 11 year old daughter was sitting in the youth group.

Gulp.  This just got real.

I think that with her addition to the group, the teaching didn’t change but my sensitivity to how YOUNG these kids are changed.  We should not be having to have these conversations so soon!

But the world is, so we better.

If you’ve got kids nearing middle school, and you are dreading the big talk, let me put you on an amazing resource.  Family Life produces an amazing tool for parents called Passport to Purity that we’ve utilized at our church for years.  It’s a weekend experience for one parent with their emerging teen, where you pair fun life experiences with CD’s and journaling that explore and inspire on one of the most awkward and important conversations you’ll ever have.  Our church owns a copy we loan to parents, so if you’re one of my locals, let me know.  Otherwise, make the investment, buy the product, and make a memory.

For the rest of us, I want to share a simple concept that we reinforce with our teens every year.  If you’ve got teens, you should use this.  If you’ve got little ones, learn it well, your time is coming.

We live in a culture that is sex saturated.  It’s used to sell everything from shoes to hamburgers.  To live in modern western culture is to be sexually abused, at least on a visual level.

And all the while, we keep telling kids that they should stay pure.  But why?  Because God said so.  But why?

I’m going to share the most helpful explanation I’ve ever encountered.  Thank you Andy Stanley for being so clever with your simple phrases.

The the ultimate goal for our lives is not purity.  It’s intimacy.  

What is intimacy?  It’s knowing someone, and being fully known, without fear of rejection.

Purity paves the way for intimacy.

This simple, brilliant concept is true in both human and spiritual relationships.  We want intimacy with people.  In a marriage relationship, sex is that amazing glue that helps form intimacy, as you learn, know, and enjoy someone in all of their exposed awkwardness.  You’ve got the security of a lifetime commitment to them, so sex draws you together.

Before marriage, sexual experience works as a type of glue, but one with no promises or insurance.  When you get involved sexually with someone before the commitment of marriage, you’ve given a piece of yourself to them and the fear of rejection skyrockets.  This is why we start making so many stupid decisions when we get physical with people too early.  We ignore their obvious flaws.  We cling when we should run.  We’ve spent our glue on them and don’t want to go through the ripping process.

So how do I get to know someone in a healthy way before marriage?  Pursue purity.  Purity paves the way for intimacy.  I learn them, watch them, see how they are around others.  All of this is done while guarding my heart, mind, and body.  I’ll still get emotionally connected to them.  But I won’t raise the stakes of rejection to the level of panic.  Purity paves the way for intimacy.

Spiritually, it works the same way.  Purity paves the way for intimacy with God.  He already fully knows me.  Through Christ He demonstrates that He fully loves me and won’t reject me.  But when I pursue sexual pleasure outside of the confines of my spouse, I feel the distance with God.  Shame comes.  Regret.  It’s impossible to continue a path of failing sexually without repentance while walking with Jesus.  So at some point, we must chose.  Intimacy with God or doing whatever I want.

There’s much that goes along with this, I’ll explore it in the days ahead.  But for now, remember this:  Intimacy is the joy of fully knowing someone and being fully known, without fear of rejection.  We all want intimacy.  Purity paves the way for intimacy.

Look first to your own life.  Examine your heart.  Turn your actions and attitudes towards the path you know Jesus would have you walk.

Then teach your kids.

Sowing and Reaping

Last week I talked about backpacks and boulders.  If you didn’t read that post, go back and read it.  If you’re an auditory learner, you can listen to the podcast.
Now that you’ve mastered the concept of backpacks and boulders (if not the practice), let me help out those of you who are worried the world is going to end if you don’t step in and save the day like you’re used to doing.
In the book Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud pairs the concept of Backpacks and Boulders with an important law also found in Galatians 6.  After the apostle Paul encourages us to “bear one another burdens” while “each carries his own load”, he follows up with this important truth:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7-8
Paul is making a powerful point:  In God’s kingdom, there are no crop failures.  Every action has a reaction.  Everything planted, good or bad, will bloom.
The problem is that sometimes the wrong person gets the crop.
God is brilliant, and has designed this nifty little world to be full of natural consequences that teach valuable life lessons.  I’ll give you an example.  You might have heard of this thing called gravity.  If I try to jump off of something that’s too high, gravity pulls me to the earth.  And it hurts.  And then I learn to not jump off of things quite so high.  I sow a stupid decision, I reap a broken foot.
Unless some well meaning hero steps between me and the ground.  Then I might walk away fine, having softened the force of my fall with their broken body.
If this is a once in a lifetime heroic deed, then that person might have saved my life (or at least my ankle).  But if it’s a pattern, then they are actually wrecking both of our lives.
Here’s the funny thing about Sowing and Reaping… when we keep stepping in and taking the consequences for someone, we think we are helping them.  But we’re not.  They’ve no motivation to change.  And we start getting resentful, because we think they should be thankful.  But they’re not thankful, because they’ve begun to expect that we are SUPPOSED to step in and take their consequences.
The sower of bad decisions doesn’t have the problem.  We have the problem.
If your kid forgets their homework at home and you rush it to them at school, your kid didn’t bear the consequence, you did.
If your coworker chronically shows up late for work and you always cover for them, your coworker doesn’t have a problem, you do.
If your teenager gets busted at school for something stupid and you rush to the principles office to beg, plead, or threaten for the punishment to go away, then why would your teenager bother to change?  They’ve got a perfectly good system in place.
There are no crop failures.  Stop taking the consequences for your loved one’s bad decisions.  You think you’re being loving and tender.  But there’s a good chance you’re being enabling and codependent.
Let them fall and fail, especially when the consequences are minor.  As people grow, their decisions get bigger, and the crops get bigger too.  A loving parent allows for short term hurt to avoid long term harm.
So, this week, don’t turn backpacks into boulders, stop being the superhero, and stay out of the way when God tries to use a perfectly good natural consequence to spare your loved ones a lifetime of bad character!

Huge Mistakes that Parents Make Part 1

We recently did a parent summit at our church using Tim Elmore’s excellent teaching on Huge Mistakes Parents Make and ways to avoid them.  I found myself squirming with guilt as he spoke, but really happy to be in a room of equally guilty moms and dads!  Special thanks to Lifechurch for making such an awesome product free for churches and the public.  Take a few minutes to watch this and share it with others who might benefit.

 

Backpacks and Boulders

What if I could share some parenting advice that could also help you in some of the most difficult relationships in your life?  I’m not exaggerating, these next few minutes could be some of the most freeing of your life.
I have developed a long term love relationship with an accessory.
In the spring of 1996, I purchased a fairly ordinary looking backpack in a mall in Colorado.  I was a second semester freshman at a military school, and had just gone through something called “recognition” where we were no longer looked at as slaves, and were allowed to make limited big boy decisions, like choosing what kind of backpack we would carry.  Little did I know that 21 years later, my Eastern Mountain Sports backpack would make it through four years of college, 17 years as a mobile office, and about ten trips to the other side of the world.  I’ve carried my backpack most days for the last two decades, and it’s carried me through triumph and tragedy. I’ve grown so fond of my backpack, I might throw it a birthday party this spring.
Just a few years after getting my backpack I read one of the most profound books of my life.  It was called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud.  Boundaries is based off of the scriptural teachings of Galatians 6.  Essentially there are 2 important statements that initially seem contradictory in Galatians 6.  In Galatians 6:2, we are commanded to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”  Two verses later, Galatians 6:4 ends by saying “for each shall carry his own load”.  Some translations actually use the same word – burden – for both verses.  Isn’t this confusing?  What should we do?  Bear one another’s burdens or bear our own?
Both
Here’s the two minute summary of an excellent book (if you want more detail, listen to my podcast on the subject, and if you’re still curious get the book):
Every single person in life has a certain amount of responsibilities that constitute our own personal “Load”.  This is their backpack.  When you’re little, your backpack might include tying your own shoes, picking up after yourself, apologizing when you’ve  done wrong, and acceptable chores.  When you grow up, your backpack includes paying your own bills, processing your emotions, showing up on time, doing your own work.  The Bible commands each of us to bear our own load.
On the other hand, however, we know that if we live long enough, every single person will also have their share of calamity and trial.  These burdens can fill like boulders.  Have you ever tried to carry a boulder?  You can’t, at least not for very long at all.  What are boulders?  It could be a sickness, injury, family death or tragedy, a series of terrible events… there’s no end to the types of boulders people encounter.  And the Bible commands us to bear one another burdens, their boulders, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The problem comes when people get backpacks and boulders confused.  People try to hand us (or we heroically take) their backpack.  We trudge along carrying their load, feeling overwhelmed and resentful.  Meanwhile they go along just fine, light and free and growing in irresponsibility.  The converse of this is when people are truly weighed down by boulders that they cannot carry.  The weight will crush them, but they have an overdeveloped sense of doing everything by themselves.  If we don’t step in and help, the damage will be great.
The trick is understanding what is an appropriate backpack and what is an appropriate boulder in each person’s life.
How can this help you?  First, practice it at home.  Have this conversation with your family, use visual illustrations of backpacks and boulders.  Talk about what’s in each person’s backpack.  Help your kids understand theirs, and help them understand yours.  Now, use the language as you walk through the week.
Then, as you build your discernment and courage muscles, take a look at your work and larger family environment.  Where are you picking up other people’s backpacks?  Where are you letting people flounder under boulders?  What might you do different?
The concept is easy, the application can be challenging, especially in dysfunctional environments.  Next week I’ll expand a little further, but if the concepts new to you, this is plenty to practice for one week.
I’m praying for you!  Let me know how it goes!

Enabling your kids (in a good way)

I have a dilemma.  Back when I only had one child, she was easily the smartest kid in the universe, which naturally made me the best parent in the universe.

But then I had other kids.  And they can’t all be the smartest kid in the universe.  Also, I’m not allowed to keep telling my oldest that she’s the smartest kid in the universe, now that the others are old enough to communicate and build resentments.  Nobody wants to be the sibling of the smartest kid in the universe.

Besides, I began to have this sneaking suspicion that my firstborn might not actually be the smartest kid in the universe.  Definitely top ten, but I noticed that other kids were better than her at certain things.   Obviously this was a huge blow to my self esteem.  But I also began to realize that it wasn’t exactly healthy to my daughter to be told she was the best before she had actually put in any work.

It turns out that she started to develop a peculiar habit: there were certain areas where she was naturally gifted, and in these areas she went all in.  But in most areas of life, humans don’t come out of the womb already talented.  And if she wasn’t always perfect at something, she avoided even trying it.  I later learned that this is a classic example of what educators call a “fixed mindset”.

You see, as parents we love our kids and want to build them up.  But we often build them up in ways that can ultimately paralyze them.  When we tell a kid “you’re really smart” or “you’re really pretty” or “you’re so athletic”, we are describing things that they really don’t control.  It might work well in our homes or in the early years of school, but at some point they come up against people that are smarter, prettier, or more athletic than them and they often shrink.  The thought can be, “that person is just more naturally talented than me, how can I compete?”

I want to share with you one area you can start complimenting your children that can help them get smarter, prettier, more athletic, and (believe it or not) more spiritually mature:

Compliment their work ethic.  

We are all born with a certain amount of brains, brawn, and resources.  But these things are not as finite as we often think.  A kid (or adult) can come upon a task that they are not good at, but if they have a strong sense of confidence in their work ethic, they will rise to the challenge.  We need to build into them the knowlege that if they work hard, they’re not stuck.  Remember those smart educators I referenced?  They call this attitude a “growth mindset”.  In a growth mindset, I may not be there, but I’m on my way.

How do we help enable a growth mindset and strong work ethic?  Try this:  instead of simply complimenting the results, congratulate them on the process.

Instead of “wow, you got straight A’s, you’re so smart!” try “wow, you got straight A’s, I’m so proud of you for working and studying hard!”

Instead of “you’re such a great athlete” try “I can tell you’ve been practicing really hard, your skills are really growing!”

Instead of “you’re so beautiful” try “I am so proud of the way you take care of your body but don’t feel the need to advertise your assets to the world”.

You can even try “I am so proud of the way your character is growing, I see you’re working hard to make the right choices and spend time with Jesus”.

I still tell my kids they are strong, smart, and good looking all of the time.  I also want them to know they don’t earn my love or their salvation.  But I’m learning to invest in their confidence to get over brick walls.

It’s time to start enabling our kids.  In a good way.

A “simple” definition of womanhood

I have to admit, I am not a woman.

I find women to be wonderfully complex.  In the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, John Gray pictures the minds of men to be like waffles and the minds of women to be like spaghetti noodles.  In the waffle-like mind of men, everything has its place, things are easily compartmentalized, and we can have relationships based on one single commonality and happily ignore all of the dissonance and difference between us and others.  Ladies, however, see the interconnectedness of every aspect of life.  Single commonalities don’t work for relationships, because everything affects everything else.  This is oversimplification, but I find it to be generally true.  Neither are bad, both are necessary for different aspects of life, but sometimes it’s hard for one to understand the other.

In so many ways, I am unqualified to come up with a definition of womanhood.

The thing is, I have two daughters and a wife.  As a student pastor, I shepherd more young ladies than young men.  And I do so in a world that wants to devour them, so I can’t sit this one out.  I feel compelled to help offer my girls a compelling vision of womanhood, because if we don’t do it as parents, some wolf will.

And so, unqualified as I may be, I offer this simple definition of womanhood:

You’re a woman.  That means God made you graceful to heal others.

I choose “graceful” instead of “beautiful”, not because I don’t want my daughters to know that they are beautiful.   They are, and I tell them all the time.  But at the core, there’s something about grace that changes the world, and I see it reflected in the best women I know.

What is grace?  A ballerina is graceful.  A football player can be graceful.  This kind of grace is describing a simple elegance, a refinement in movement or skill.  I see this in the best women.  But more than that, it’s the Biblical definition of grace that I’m getting at.  Grace is the undeserved favor of God.  It’s the fierce boldness to love those who are unlovable, to get at their heart and soul through kindness and favor when force would just repel them.  You see it in 1 Samuel 25 when David is persueded to put away his sword by the graceful words of Abigail.  You see it when the All Powerful King and Creator of the World is born in a manger and dies on a cross.  We are saved by grace.

As we tease out what a REAL woman looks like, we say a REAL Woman

  • Rejects Worldly Identity
  • Expects God’s Greater Reward
  • Acts with Strength and Wisdom
  • Loves Others Boldly

This isn’t weak-willed living.  This is the hardest job humans will be called to.  To love the unlovable, to push through fear and short term gain to see God’s long term redemption, this is the stuff of warriors and heroes.  This is what I want in my daughters.

So it’s not as simple as defining manhood.  But that’s probably for the best, because women aren’t simple.  They are amazingly, wonderfully complex.  And they are central to God’s Kingdom coming to every broken corner of this earth.

Share this with your girls.  Take it, improve it, practice it.  Let’s have ladies that heal the world!

A child-friendly definition of manhood

Several years ago, I lived in an apartment complex next door to one of my very good friends, who also happens to be one of the smartest humans I’ve ever known.  He was brilliant at biology and theology.  He loved his wife and kids very well.  But man, did he have a stupid dog.

I don’t know, maybe the dog was a genius, but bored out of his doggy mind.  Either way, he was very hyper, high strung, and annoying.  In case it’s still foggy, let me clarify: I did not like my friends dog.

One day, my friend was taking his annoying dog out to do his doggy business as I was pulling up to the apartment.  My friend and his wife were also babysitting a younger boy that day, the child of a couple who was going through a really rough patch. You see, the boy had a really big, strong dad who could break people with his bare hands, but he couldn’t yet figure out the whole husband and dad bit.  He was lost.  Which meant the boy was lost.

Lost boys do bad things.  When men don’t know their roles, they crumble emotionally and bring physical chaos and destruction all around them.  You can see it in our inner cities.  You can see it in our schools.

And I was watching it in the yard with this little boy and annoying dog.  Mr. Spazzo-dog was wanting to do his doggy business, but Little Lost Boy kept agitating him, riling him up.  The dog was going to have a breakdown.

And then my super smart friend paused our conversation, casually turned around and then put a firm hand on Little Lost Boy’s shoulder.  He looked him in the eye and said “Your a man.  That means that God made you strong to take care of others.  And right now you’re using your strength to hurt my dog.  That’s not what God made you to do.”

And in that moment, I had a moment of clarity.  My friend had summed up volumes of child psychology while his dog pooped.  It was the most simplistic, brilliant definition of manhood I’ve ever heard.  So when my wife became pregnant with our little man-child, we began to pray it over his life.  And before he and his little brother were old enough to listen, we began repeating God’s purpose for their life:

“Your a man.  That means that God made you strong to take care of others.”

It affirms so much.  You ARE a man (I’m not raising boys, I’m raising men).  God made you.  God made you with a purpose.  God made you strong.  God made your strength for a purpose.

One of my favorite things to overhear is my youngest son correcting his older brother “Hey, you’re not using your strength to take care of me”.  He’s got it!

As they get older, we will expand it to Robert Lewis‘ excellent definition of what a REAL man does:

  1. Rejects Passivity
  2. Expects God’s Greater Reward
  3. Accepts Responsibility
  4. Leads Courageously

But even then, their child-friendly definition will hold fast.  And it’s not just my boys that need to hear this.  My girls are in a world surrounded by phony men.  They need a standard to evaluate which ones are worth their time and attention, and which ones should be avoided.  Does he love God?  Does he use his strength for others, or does he use it for his own gain?  So simple, so effective.

So thank you Mr. Smartypants neighbor and Mr. Annoying Dog.  Thank you Little Lost Boy, I’ve lost touch with you but I pray you’ve found our way.

Teach your sons and daughters God’s vision for manhood.  Affirm it in them.  Model it in your own life.  Expect it of them.  And pray it into them!

building kids that build God's kingdom