All posts by jay@covenantfellowship.com

Jesus modeled how to disciple our children

Have you ever longed to be in a great discipleship relationship, where you get to mentor someone  and watch them grow  into a fully devoted follower of Jesus?  Are you in one of those relationships now?  If you don’t think you are, let me encourage you to go back home and take a peak in your extra bedrooms at the little people who eat all of your food.  You’ve got your disciples.  Now, how are you going to disciple them?

Jesus modeled a very clear, understandable way to make and train disciples.  It works in churches, and in my opinion might work even better in the home, because we eat, labor, and live with those in our home.

 

On this week’s Podcast, two of my good friends and student ministry veterans help explain a concept called 4 Chair Discipling, which was first elaborated by Dann Spader (You should really buy this book and read it).  Curtis Burnham of Reign Ministries and Crisman Koechig from Coastal life church have been trained and now train others in this surprisingly simple pattern that we see lived out in His life with the disciples:

  • Come and see: We spend time with someone lost or seeking. 
  • Follow me: A new believer makes a commitment to follow Jesus.
  • Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men: a believer is a worker in the field, working alongside someone who knows what they are doing.
  • Go and Bear Fruit: a worker is now mature, working on their own, making their own disciples.

You see this in the life of Christ.  He spends time with Andrew and Phillip, John and Nathaniel.  They need to get to know Him, and he takes the time to do that.  As they begin to be drawn by Jesus, he invites them to follow him as disciples.  Soon after, Jesus brings them along on ministry trips as fishers of men, workers in the field.  As they learn and grow, Jesus then gives them responsibility and authority to go out on their own and make disciples.

This process took three and a half years for the Son of God when he was walking and living with the disciples day in and day out.   The fact that it took Jesus this much time encourages me that 1) this isn’t something that happens quickly and 2) it will happen best with those we spend the most time with.  

For instance, our children.

So how can we do this at home?

  1. Walk as Jesus walked – Model for our kids what it looks like to be dependent on the Holy Spirit.  Do they see you reading your Bible?  Do they see you praying?  Do they see you serving, giving, showing hospitality?  Do you show grace and forgiveness?  Do they see your humanity and vulnerability?
  2. Invite them in to a walk with Christ – More than just asking them to trust Jesus for their life, invite them in to join you in your walk.  Do some of your studies with them.  Pray with them.  Help them discover their faith.  Embrace the awkwardness!
  3. Challenge them to take pieces of the process – Let them take turns leading in prayer, brining a devotion, make a meal for someone in need.  Coach them through forgiveness and reconciliation with their friends. Pray for your friends and neighbors and their friends and neighbors together!  Make your home a hub for ministry together.
  4. Release responsibility and authority – Even if they’re not going to do something as well as you, let them lead.  As is age appropriate, let them take as much responsibility and authority as you can, and then celebrate the wins.

Speaking of celebrating the wins, in parenting and discipleship we need to remember that THE PROCESS IS THE WIN!  We might never get to spend time basking in the finished product.  So we need to soak up the process.  The joy is in the journey.

I’ve done my best to overview our conversation, but you really should listen to our discussion and read the book!  It’s very much worth your time.  You can do this!

 

What youth pastors wish they could tell parents

I had a recent conversation with one of my good friends and partners in local youth ministry, Crisman Koechig.  It was fun for me and I think it will be helpful for you to listen.  We hit these important topics, and you should really listen in!

  • What are the commonalities you see in families who’s children actually spiritually thrive?
  • What kind of families are most challenging for kids to thrive spiritually?
  • Should you force your kid to come to church or youth/kids ministry?
  • What level of involvement in student and children’s ministry is helpful?  Are you going to hurt them by hovering in there space?
  • The concept of Potted Plant Parenting, and giving up being the “cool parent”.

That’s it.  A nice, easy, helpful conversation that will give you just enough goodness to help you through your week.

But it’s only helpful if you listen!

A New Year’s Parent Pep Talk

We are one week into 2018.  Have you radically changed your life yet?  Me neither.  I’ve mostly been trying to convince my body that I’m not still in India.  I love mornings.  But I don’t love 2AM.

Many people love New Year’s Resolutions, and others just as passionately hate them.  I mostly stay away from the “resolution” word because it feels like as soon as theirs failure, there’s despair and giving up.  Anything really worth “resolving” at the front of the year should be worth sticking with as the year goes on, even if it takes you most of the year to start sticking.  If you want some help on getting a new habit to stick, I recommend you checking out one of the very early blogs and podcasts I did,  all about how to learn a new habit.

I like to take the couple of weeks at the end of one year and beginning of another to evaluate where I’ve been and where I’m heading.  As I do, I always remember a powerful quote by Andy Stanley:

“Your Direction, Not Your Intention, Determines Your Destination”

This is simple, profound, and convicting.

As an example, I live really close to U.S. 1 in Stuart, FL.  It’s cold right now, so perhaps I decide I want to get as far south as possible, and I know that U.S. 1 will ultimately get me to Key West.  If I head to U.S. 1 and turn left from my house, it doesn’t matter how much I want to get to Key West, I’m headed to Maine!  It’s my direction, not my intention, that determines my destination.  Therefore, a very wise, simple exercise we should do as humans, parents, followers of Jesus, is to take an honest look at our direction.

A simple, powerful question to ask yourself:

Given my current direction, without changing trajectory  where am I heading?

I think this is an important question to ask oneself, not just in general, but in specific areas of your life.  Take some time, apply this question to the following areas:

  • Your walk with Jesus
  • Your marriage
  • Your relationships with your kids and family
  • Your professional life
  • Your finances
  • Your physical health

Very likely, if you’re honest, you’re not going to be thrilled with all of the conclusions.  Given that reality, you’re left with two options: 1) Keep on doing what you’re doing and pretend that somehow you’re going to get a different result through magic 2) Change your direction.

If you realize you need a change of direction, I recommend you 1) share this with someone who can encourage you and keep you accountable, 2) make a plan to start baby steps in the right direction and 3) check out this “Hardwiring Habits” post I mentioned earlier.

And if you’re looking for baby steps, here are a few you might consider:

  • Read one chapter of the Bible a day; add a specific time of consistent prayer each day; get in a small group with people who will encourage you
  • Block one morning or evening every week or two weeks for a date with your spouse, or some intentional activity with your kids each week, or one specific night each week for dinner with your family
  • Write out 3 Actionable Goals for this year in your professional life
  • Take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course and follow his Baby Steps to Financial Freedom
  • Start a Food Journal.  Write down everything you eat.

These are just suggestions, and you likely cannot start all of these at one time and have any hopes at succeeding.  So pick on, or two.

Take baby steps.  Change your direction.  Change your destination!  By God’s grace and with His help you can do this!

Let me know what baby steps you’re taking this year!

 

Celebrating One Year of Let’s Parent on Purpose

This coming Monday marks the 50th Let’s Parent on Purpose Podcast, and I want to take a couple of minutes to celebrate and share some changes that I’m making for this coming year.

First, as a celebration,

  • the Let’s Parent on Purpose Blog has been visited over 12,000 times this year!
  • the Podcast has more than 7,500 downloads!
  • people beyond my mom and grandma listen!

What began as a means of enriching the ministry to the parents in our church has by God’s grace been a blessing to many throughout the country.  I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit in the process and am looking forward to a few adjustments this coming year:

  • I am going to put much more focus on the podcasts than the blog this year.  I have noticed that blogs have a 3 day shelf life, but when someone discovers a podcast they go back and listen to past episodes.  Also, I think that if you’ll spend 15-20 minutes listening to the podcast, you’ll get so much more out of it than a 4 minute read of the blog.
  • Most of the time, the blog is going to become show notes and links for the podcast.  I’ll also direct link each podcast in the blog.
  • I’m going to do a LOT more interviews.  I’ve got a great list lined up already, including experts on home family discipleship, sex and and teen sexuality, creating systems and structures to manage chores in your house, and experts on Generation Z.  I think you’re going to really enjoy the discussions and gain a lot from them.
  • I’m going to try to provide more specific written content to our Let’s Parent on Purpose Community based on your feedback, needs, and requests.

If you’re normally a reader of the blog, I want to request that you try out a couple of the podcasts.  They’re extremely helpful and most of them will fit in your drive around town or exercise time.

Thanks so much for your encouragement and support this year, here’s looking forward to a fruitful 2018 for all of us parents!

Jay

Depression and Anxiety in Parenting and Mariage

Helplessness.  Hopelessness.  Darkness.  Lethargy.  Racing thoughts.  Why am I feeling this way?

My good friend Jenny Price joins me again this week for a very honest and helpful talk on anxiety and depression.  Jenny is 26 years  into her marriage and is raising 5 children with her husband, Pastor Matt Price.  She gives a very open, honest account of her personal struggle with anxiety and depression over the years.

It’s almost an absolute certainty that you either struggle with anxiety & depression or someone you love does.  This talk was incredibly helpful to me, and I know it will be to you as well.

Itunes

I can’t possibly cover all that we talked about.  Listen to the podcast.

 

Highlights of the show include

  • Jenny tracing her battle with anxiety and depression from childhood through the teenage years, issues of abuse that exacerbated the situation, physical symptoms that revealed her inner struggles.
  • The interaction between mental and spiritual health as well as the stigma around the term mental illness.
    • Why is it acceptable for Christians to get medicine for physical ailments but not mental battles?  
  • Circumstantial vs. chemical anxiety and depression as well as the differences between feelings of anxiety and depression
  • How mental illness is a sign of spiritual brokenness, but why praying, reading ones bible, and thinking about Jesus might not be enough to fix the problem.
  • Jenny’s story of realizing she needs help and the path she has walked to wellness.

Advice
If you are struggling with anxiety or depression

  • Get help, because help can’t hurt.  If medical help is what they give you, do what they actually say.   Sometimes it might be a daily humbling of opening the pill container.
    • By the way,
      • A pastor can help you address spiritual issues, help you identify and own sin, give you help and plans for strengthening the spiritual part of your life.  But MOST pastors are not counseling experts and aren’t in a position to council through long term needs.
      • A counselor is there to listen to all of the thoughts going on in your head.  You have time and space to talk things out, work through things, feel the release of sharing.
      • A psychologist will step that up a notch, help give you tools of cognitive behavioral therapy.
      • A psychiatrist will help you address the issues medically. But you might even start with your internal medicine doctor.
  • Have people in your life that you talk with honestly
  • Share your story

If you perceive these symptoms in your spouse

  • The first battle to get over is denial.
  • Make note of specific symptoms, help point out to them “these are the things I see” without trying to diagnose all of the root causes.  Encourage them that they will feel helped if they go talk to someone.
  • Don’t overwhelm them with an exhaustive list, that could be crushing.
  • Go with your spouse to the appointment if they will go.

If you have a friend who lives with anxiety and depression

  • If they’re not dealing with it, ask questions.  Show compassion.  Give love and grace.  Give them time to let it sink in that there may be a more serious problem.
  • If they’re managing it, talk to them, ask questions, give grace.

Resources whether it’s you or a loved one

Sadly, this is often a taboo subject, especially in Christian circles.  We’ve bought into some kind of lie that says I should be able to change our mental and emotional state if we are just spiritual enough.  To counter that, I present to you the following:

  • The Bible is full of lament.  There’s even a book called Lamentations.  About one third of the Psalms are songs of disorientation.  Elijah the prophet wanted to die after his victory on Mt. Carmel.  Sometimes life is so very hard.  Sometimes it’s hard because of external circumstances.  But sometimes those forces are internal.qI have a family tendency towards high blood pressure.
  • I have a family history of high blood pressure.  Knowing this, I want to do everything I can to eat well, exercise, and have healthy outlets for my stress.  But if I do all of these things and still find myself with high blood pressure, I want to CONTINUE to do all of these things, and humbly thank the Lord that there is medicine that will potentially give me more years with my kids and grandkids.  The same analogy should govern our mental health.

You’re not alone.  It won’t always be like this.  One day Jesus will make all things new.  In the meantime, get help.

 

 

 

LPOP 49 Depression and Anxiety in Marriage and Parenting

Pastor’s wife, mother of five, follower of Jesus Jenny Price shares her struggles and wisdom from a life battling forms of depression and anxiety.

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.

Itunes  Android

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!

LPOP 48 Looking Back: A College Mom’s Perspective

Mother of 5, career coach, and pastor’s wife Jenny Price muses on what she would tell her early parenting self if she had a time machine.

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.

Listen on iTunes

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.

 

LPOP 47 Matching Behavior and Consequence

Professional Counselor and adoptive father Bradley McCallester joins me again to talk about strategies for using mistakes to train desired behaviors.

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!

LPOP 46 Behavior Should Make us Curious

Professional Counselor and adoptive father Bradley McCallester joins me to talk about strategies for using mistakes to train desired behaviors.

LPOP 45 Relatives + Holidays = Why do we do this?

When families come together for the Holidays, sometimes it’s a clash of worldview and parenting styles. Here are some steps to ease the pain.

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!

LPOP 44 Should I Withhold Church As a Consequence?

This is a sticky subject: should you keep your children home from church as a consequence for bad grades or behavior?

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.

LPOP 31 Chemo is done and I’m afraid

After three and a half years of treatment, we are finally done with chemo. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and why I’m still afraid.

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!

 

LPOP 30 Consequences Don’t Have to Be Immediate

Sometimes delaying the consequences for a while – while you collect your thoughts and make a great plan – can be much more effective than shooting form the hip.  Here’s why.

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!

LPOP 29 An Interview with Dr. Samuel Thomas

This was a special and rare opportunity to interview one of my dear friends and spiritual heroes, Dr. Samuel Thomas of Hopegivers International.  Hopegivers rescues orphaned and at risk children throughout India and plant churches throughout South Asia.

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!

 

LPOP 28 When Mom is managing alone

So many moms are carrying double the spiritual load for the family.  Here’s some encouragement on what to do if you find yourself in that spot.

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!

 

LPOP 26 Want to Be a Better Parent? Be a Better Spouse.

Too often a marriage becomes child focused. Not only is this bad for the husband and wife, it’s terrible for the kids!

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.