The one about the weirdness of growing up…

awkwardteenager

You ever traveled?  I’m not talking hit the beach or visit the lake.  I’m talking traveled.  Have you ever packed your bags, jumped on a plane, and gone somewhere completely foreign to you?

Take yourself somewhere.

Right now.

Lets try out Paris.  I’ve always wanted to go.  Well, kinda.  In my mind, France has always had this duality of wicked awesome and utterly pretentious.  Like I can sip coffee on the sidewalk of a two hundred year old cafe, but I’ll have to put up with the angry Parisian chain smoker next to me, blowing intentionally in my face and uttering french expletives because every fiber of my being screams “MURICA!”.

Anyway…

Picture it.  You step off the plane and are greeted by signs you can’t read.  You exchange your dollars for euros, which are entirely too colorful to be real, and step out in the street.  Everyone walks like they know where they’re going, except you.  You stop in the middle of the street to get your bearings and create a roadblock that leads to lots of bumps, sideways glances, and not so quiet mutters.  You realize for the first time just how out of place you are and note just how alone you feel.  You line up for a cab and finally one arrives.  You step up to get in and are elbowed by a dozen other people wanting the same seat.  Having no way to protest, you just step aside bewildered.  After an extended time of holding your heavy luggage, having your toes trampled, and a close call with a street sweeper, you get a ride.  You clamber in the backseat and try to tell the driver where you want to go.  After more dirty looks and breathy mutterings, you’re finally on the same page.  You’re watching dreamily out the window, passing shops, cafes, monuments and for a moment, you’re euphoric; a brave traveler in a whole new world – until you start getting further and further from town.  You thought you booked a hotel in the heart of the city, only to find you’ve got your own room at Le’ Craphole hotel, tucked behind an alley with flashing neon lights and loitering drunks.  You somehow manage to get your key, after more than a little struggle.  You make it to your room, go to charge your phone, and realize the plug doesn’t fit.  You mutter your own expletives, all in English, and decide you need a bite to eat.  The first thing you pass is a small bakery.  What’s more French than a croissant?  You go in, order your food, and sit at a small table in the center of the room.  You look to your left and your heart stops.  You’ve spotted the most attractive frenchy France has ever seen.  Your eyes meet before you can look away.  You want to chat, but you’re so dumbfounded and nervous, you just spend the rest of the wait staring at your lap.  You’re finally freed from your navel gazing by an angry little frenchwoman who brings you something totally not what you ordered.  Now you’re arguing with the shopkeeper, who keeps throwing sharp little french words over your shoulder to the ever growing crowd around you, explaining to them that the stupid American doesn’t know what he’s doing… at least you think.  Once again, you’re alone, confused, embarrassed, the focus of undesired attention, and agitating the masses.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

Now think back to middle school and tell me the difference.

Through childhood, we parent a child to function in the world we create for them.  We tell them our rules, we give them our best practices, we teach them our language, we begin their basic education, and we allow them to practice them all in the safety of our little circles and under our watchful eyes.  We try to build their skills and their confidence and tell them they’re doing a good job if they can navigate our world.

Then middle school hits.  They’re no longer in the world we created for them.  And they’re told that if they want to survive this new world, they’ll need new rules, new best practices, even a whole new language.

But they’re starting to look grown.  They can hold a conversation with us.  They’re becoming much more physically able.  And so we start treating them like adults, completely ignoring the fact they they’re essentially babies, learning to navigate all over again.

And God love them, they try.  They try to find where they fit and where they thrive.  They try to learn what they think and what they believe.  They even try to make an impact and a name for themselves.  Sadly, it usually goes something like this…

Is that not the epitome of life in middle school?

My point in all this babble is this: you did a great job helping your kid navigate your world.  But your preteen is no longer in your world.  You need to have the same patience, compassion, and composure leading them now as you did way back then.  And regardless what they say and how they act, they want your help.  You were so gentle and encouraging when your little baby was learning to walk – wobbling through your living room with shaky legs and wide eyes.  You were always there with a kind word and a kiss to heal the boo-boo’s.  Keep it up.  Because they’re not just another year older.  They’re not just one grade higher.  They’re learning to walk all over again.  And they still very much need you.  Don’t give up on you.  Don’t give up on them.  Your love, grace, discipline, and persistence brought them this far.  Keep it up and it will take them further than you can imagine.

5 ways to enjoy your family this weekend…

famfun

The weekend is upon us!  PTL!  It’s difficult to find ways to engage your family and keep them all smiling together.  The following are 5 ideas for you to have a blast with the people God has given you.  I daresay, these may even be social media worthy… you know, the stuff you and your kids like so much you show it off online.  So keep the mower in the shed and look past all the dust bunnies on your floor.  Your family is much more important than little tasks.  I also encourage you to be open minded with what you do with your family.  Especially when our kids get older, we think we always have to be cool and avoid anything that looks hokey.  But you know what, hokey can be great.  We get the idea that we always have to be super entertaining, especially when it comes to sharing our faith.  But that’s just not the case.  Your kids will appreciate hearing from you, regardless of how spectacular your stories are.  You’re intentionally taking time to be with and share with them.  That’s far more important than keeping things hip.  And if it’s the first time you’ve talked with them about faith, it can feel a little awkward.  But embrace it.  I always tell my youth group: awkward is awesome.  It means you’re doing something new and different that stretches you.  Besides, the more you do it, the more natural it will become.  And sharing our faith with our kids should be natural.

So I’ll get off my soapbox and let you continue reading.  Pick something fun and get after it!

1. Volunteer – Get your family out serving!  This weekend will be easier than others.  No need to set up anything in advance.  With all the storms and wind we’ve had, there’s limbs and junk all over the place.  Pack up some rakes, saws, and other tools, cruise town looking for people to bless, knock on a door, get permission, and do work!  BONUS: after seeing how many houses you can hit in an afternoon, grab some Dairy Queen and talk about how Jesus modeled having a servant’s heart.  Point out scripture with Jesus, the savior of the world, washing the feet of His disciples.  Discuss how we’re called to lead like Jesus, by being a servant and meeting the needs God makes us aware of.

2. Food Fight – Not literally, but if you do, you’re probably the coolest parents in the world!  Have a dessert making contest!  Before dinner, split the family into two or more teams.  Give them a spending limit, invade the grocery store, and get to cooking.  After dinner, serve up both desserts.  Winner has bragging rights, loser has dish duty.  The only thing better than delish desserts with the fam is the fun of working together!  BONUS: over dessert, share your journey of faith with your kids.  Talk about how God used all sorts of ingredients to make your life great.  Focus on all the characters God brought you and how they helped you or all the situations he used and redeemed to lead you to where you are.

3. Take in a Game – It doesn’t need to be big leagues to be enjoyable.  Find a school that’s competing or hit up the local fields to see if anyone is playing a game, be it 3 year-olds playing soccer or travel baseball.  Bring a cooler full of popsicles or a whole mess of walking tacos to give out to everyone else watching the game.  Make lots of friends, cheer for good plays, and have lots of laughs!  BONUS: if you’re watching young kids play, have your family break apart after the game and tell each of the kids playing how great they were and offer them compliments.  Something along the lines of “You played great out there!  High five for those wicked awesome [cleats, fingernails, hair bow, eye black]!!!”  BONUS: on the ride home, talk about the smiles you saw on the kids faces and the joy it brought them.  Mention scripture where we’re told that our tongues can be used for good or bad.  How it’s our choice to be people who speak joy, life, and encouragement.

4. Read Aloud – Who doesn’t enjoy being read to?  Have everyone pick out a short story or fable that can be read in 20 minutes or less.  Have a fire outside, or turn off the lights and light candles inside.  Get absurdly comfy with an overwhelming amount of pillows & blankets and take turns reading stories to each other.  A living room fort would work wonders too, just skip the candles!  There’s something magical about storytelling, when a person takes on characters and leads the listeners through a grand tale!  The one rule for the night, no pictures.  Even if the book has pictures, encourage everyone to use their own imagination to visualize the story.  That way, after the story, you could talk about how differently you pictured the people and events.  BONUS: once the stories are read, point out how scripture tells us to pass on our own stories.  How the Israelites use to set up altars at different places so when they walked by them, they’d remember what happened and how God cared for them.  Talk about your family’s stories: times where God took care of you, the story of the kids’ births (they love that story), funny things the kids did when they were little, how God has led your family to where you are now.  Celebrate God and His story of your family!

5. Photo Contest – Split the family into teams of two or more.  Choose a location: the backyard, a nearby park, your church.  Arm teams with cameras (phones work great).  Snap away!  Encourage teams to take pics of their favorite things, play with angles, new perspectives, close-ups, etc.  Have a stop time and meet up together.  Load the pictures onto a computer and have the family gather around close.  Pick a favorite from each team and celebrate all your favorites.  You can also buy frames and put them up in the house to remind you of the fun and encourage you to do it again and swap the photos out.  BONUS: When you’re done with the contest, flip through your wedding book or the kids baby books.  Look back and celebrate each other.  Share stories of the people or events in the pictures.  Praise God for His goodness and all the joy He’s brought your family.

Hope you’re at least inspired!  Now go!  God has given you an unbelievable family.  Enjoy them and make memories!

 

The one about trusting God’s plan over your own…

deer

So yesterday was my day off.  And like an idiot, I decided I’d start it off by waking up at 4am to go hunting with one of my students.  I enjoy the outdoors very much and I enjoy Cameron just the same, but what I don’t enjoy is mornings.  Not even a little.

It took a little convincing, but I found myself at 4:30am in the woods.  We were going squirrel hunting, a first for me.  And we were gonna take those squirrels and make some stew, again a first for me.  I was outfitted in borrowed camo and was looking like a seasoned vet, if I do say so myself.  But two hours into it, we hadn’t gotten a single squirrel.  It was muggy as could be and my neck was hurting from looking into trees for two straight hours.  The both of us were getting a little antsy and then something glorious happened.  Rain.  Man it felt so good!  But we were under tree cover and not getting too much on us, so we decided to walk toward a clearing, just a little ways off.  So we walk over and what would happen?  The rain stops, the sun comes beaming in, and the millions of mosquitos around were alive with refreshed vigor.  It wasn’t exactly going how we had planned.

So we just stood there for a moment and chatted.  I really like Cameron, so up to this point, it was my favorite part of the day.  And just then, amid our loud talking and laughing, out comes a trio of little deer.  Not babies, but not more than a couple years old.  They had no idea we were there.  They hopped out and just kinda hung around.  And we just stood there, talking about them.  It was like nothing we could do would alert them to our presence.  Finally, when they were about 25 yards away, I took out my phone and started taking pictures and videoing.  Only then did they finally take notice and head out, after the whistling of the mother who was hiding in the woods.

It was such a cool experience!  It was so sudden and unexpected.  For a moment, it was almost like Eden.  We just stood in this beautiful clearing, surrounded by green, and hung out with these little deer who had no reason to run.  It was like all the world was at peace.

We hunted for a few more hours after that, even had a little success.  I had a blast that day!  Turns out I enjoy squirrel hunting.  But what stood out most to me that whole day was that 45 seconds with the deer.  This little gift God gave us, completely out of nowhere.

And it occurred to me later, that’s just kinda how God is.  We make all these plans and in our busyness never stop to consider anything but our own will.  And sometimes things don’t go our way and we get a little frustrated.  But out of the blue, God gives.  Have you ever had that experience?  Like we had these small plans to make something happen.  And only after these small plans don’t work out does God reveal He had something better planned all along.

It’s almost like He knows what we need better than we do…

I read the other day that something like 90% of the information we process and take in is based off what we see with our eyes.  And I think about all the things in the world I can’t see with my eyes.  The billions of people I’ll never know, the places I’ll never visit, the lessons I haven’t learned, the ideas that I’ve never been introduced to… and suddenly my view seems really small.  Like I’ve only taken in the tiniest percent of what this world has to offer.  Suddenly, I feel like I know so little and my capacity is so limited.  And yet, I make plans that must be strictly adhered to.  And if anything goes wrong, not only is everything ruined, but God didn’t come through for me.

For the last 32 years, God has used opportunity after opportunity to teach me to trust Him.  To learn that His way really is better.  Because His plan for us doesn’t include limited information.  His plan has nothing to do with what I can observe and what I can plan.  God’s understanding is beyond measure.  His capacity is completely unlimited.  He knows our thoughts, our desires, and our wishes.  And He also knows our weaknesses, our pitfalls.  He knows what’s going to happen all over the world tomorrow.  He knows how each and every movement in this world will shape and effect each and every person.  He’s never taken off guard, never surprised, never at a loss for what to do next.  Suddenly His plan doesn’t seem so bad.  Suddenly the decision to trust Him more than myself seems not only logical, but a no-brainer.

So when things don’t go my way, how do I respond?  Do I get irritated, like I’ve been put off or harmed?  Or do I rest in the knowledge that God’s got this; that His infinite wisdom has created an infinitely greater plan?  I have learned over & over and will continue to learn that God is worthy of my trust.  That if I wait on Him, I may not get my way, but I’ll get something much better: His way.  In every moment, in every situation: God is God and God is good.

The one about guarding our words with our kids…

evil

The image above is from the most disgusting video I’ve ever seen in my life.  I thought about posting the video, but couldn’t stomach it.  I came across it on Facebook.  I don’t know why I clicked play, but I wish to God I hadn’t.  The video is of this lady abusing her small child.  It starts with hitting her with a pillow, moves on to slapping her face, then pinching her legs, and at one point even kicking her.  And all throughout, this little girl is trying to get close to her mother.  To touch her, as you can see above.  To crawl on her lap.  To be comforted by her.  And the mother just turns her away, only to hurt her more.  This video absolutely wrecked me.  I couldn’t stop seeing it in my head.  I couldn’t stop praying that God would do something for this little girl.  It’s unbelievable that this child wanted so badly to be comforted by the one doing the hurting.

But that’s how kids are.  They love their parents with a love that doesn’t make sense.  Need proof?  Just start talking to people.  You’ll hear stories of grown adults trying to win their parents approval their whole lives.  Of physically or emotionally abused kids, who grown to adulthood, still make excuses for what was done to them.

That’s why I hate it when I hear parents say things like, “Well my kid loves me.  I must be doing something right.”  Sadly, that is not the case.  We can put our kids through hell and they’ll still love us and seek our attention and approval.  And it’s got nothing to do with how you treat them.  It has everything to do with the love God puts in our hearts for the people raising us.

So we must pay very close attention to our words and actions.

First things first: If you have ever struck your child out of anger, stop everything and talk to someone.  Find a counselor that can help you with your anger and how you project that on your kids.  I’m not talking about spanking.  I’m not that guy.  But when you seek to hurt your kids, something is off.  So if that’s you, don’t even bother reading on.  Take action to end this action.

I want to ask the question of how guarded we are with our words.  Our words can be so damaging when we choose to just throw them around.  And these words we throw around so carelessly aren’t received nearly as lightly as how we use them.

Last week, I was convicted of this very thing.  Owen absolutely loves me.  He always wants to be with me, doing what I’m doing, saying what I’m saying.  So on this particular night, I was watching him ride his bike.  We live in a neighborhood, but the road itself is considered a county road, even though there are probably close to a hundred houses in a series of cul-de-sacs, which means the speed limit on our road is 50mph.  Add to that the fact that so many people live there, there’s always cars flying by.  So we watch carefully.  And Owen has been taught… maybe it’s more accurate to say that we’ve beat into his head… to watch for cars.  Anyway, Owen is in the driveway and I’m on the porch and little OZ man just goes right into the street.  Didn’t even look around.  Not once.  Well nothing happened, because there were no cars around.  But that scared me and I was seeing red.  So I call Owen over to me, asked what he was thinking, and then uttered the words “you acted so stupid!”  Immediately, I felt bad.  I tried to cover it by telling him that he was a smart kid, but still found myself saying he acted very stupid.  In my adult mind, I told myself that I wasn’t calling him stupid, just his actions.  But what did his 6 year old brain hear?  I’m willing to bet the farm, he heard one word: stupid.  And that’s what I said to him.  This man that is supposed to love him, guide him, cherish him, and lead him.  I can try to kid myself and play the whole “Well I actually said” game, but the only thing that matters is what he heard.  And I saw firsthand what he heard.  As his head bowed, his shoulders slumped, and I watched the joy leave his face.  He heard “stupid”.  And that’s all.

I had such a check in my spirit.  That’s not the dad I want to be.  That’s not the word I want him to hear.  There are a hundred ways I could have handled the situation, but my fear and anger led me to saying words that hurt him, not guide him.

But how often do we, as parents, play this game?  We are angry or afraid.  And we convey that with hurtful words, but we mask them.  “You dress like a slut”.  “You’re acting like an ass-hole”.  “You don’t care about anyone but yourself”.  And we get our point across loud and clear.  All the while damaging the ones we love most.

James, the brother of Christ, talks about the tongue in the third chapter of his book.  He says it is untamed.  That it is full of deadly poison.  That it is a fire, capable of doing great damage.  This mouth that is made to honor God and bless others, instead is often used to curse God and tear down others.  And though it should always be used to love, guide, and encourage our children, so often it is the source of hurt.

Am I saying that we shouldn’t call our kids out for bad behavior?  Of course not!  But there are ways to correct our children without tearing them down.  Harsh words when spoken can’t be taken back.  It’s like trying to get toothpaste back in the tube once it’s been squeezed.  Once it’s out there, it’s out there.  And even immediate apologies can’t pull the sting out from the wound.

So use my failure as an opportunity to reflect.  How can we communicate a lesson without using harsh words.  How do we speak correction without speaking anger?  How do we lead them and build them?  Redeeming a situation and restoring our kids never involves tearing them down.  How do we balance discouraging the action with encouraging the child?

I want Oz and Jax to hear words of affirmation from me.  I want to be a source of love, encouragement, and empowerment.  If I’m half the man I should be, I can figure out how to do that without bullying and hurting a child.

The one about falling short of perfect parenting…

Image

Last night my Blackhawks lost game 7 of the Western Conference Championship.  With just one ugly shot, our chances of another Stanley Cup are gone.  We (and I use possessive nouns to describe the team because, as any avid sports fan will tell you, we’re part of the franchise) had the lead all throughout the game.  The finals were in sight and it was ours to lose.  And we lost.  In one second of a sudden death overtime.

In every sport, the goal is always the same: to win a championship.  If a team isn’t playing to win, there’s no point in playing.  And it doesn’t matter how far you get in the playoffs.  Falling a little short of the goal is still falling short of the goal.  It’s failing.  It’s one more year of not doing exactly what we set out to do.

So there I sat, at a table in Applebees.  Dejected.  With a good friend sitting next to me.  Also dejected.  What do we do when it doesn’t work out?  When we set out for a purpose and fall short?

I’m one of those guys who tends to go all in.  It’s everything or nothing.  And that attitude permeates into every facet of life.  From ministry to parenting to whatever.  I give everything, so I demand perfection.  And I parent very intentionally.  I take advantage of teaching moments.  I speak to him the way I appreciate being spoken to.  But because I’m far from perfect, I’ll sometimes miss a teaching opportunity.  And I’ll beat myself up over it.  Like that one moment is forever gone and the lesson will never be learned.  Or maybe I speak to him like a child.  And I hate that!  I refuse to speak to him like a lesser person because he’s capable of understanding and responds so much better when spoken to respectfully.  But I’m tired.  Maybe not paying attention.  Maybe living somewhere else, besides the moment I’m in.  And I speak to him flippantly, only to hate myself later for it.  Like this one circumstance will damage our relationship forever.

What I’m trying to say is that I try really really hard, but I’m not perfect.  I wonder how many people face that same problem.  And when my imperfection rears its’ ugly face again, I beat myself up.  I feel like a failure.  I’m ashamed of myself for getting it wrong again! And I put one day’s failures on top of another day’s failures and sometimes I begin to wonder how badly I’m screwing up my kids.  Like they’re going to grow up into half people, who breath through their mouths, run into walls, and drool.

And so I read books, written by people who don’t have my kids.  Whose personalities and quarks they know nothing about.  And I ask other parents.  And as it turns out, every other parent is just as fearful that their mistakes are screwing up their own kids.  And I’ve found a very valuable truth in this process: that the parents who don’t think they’re messing up are the ones who are messing up the most.  Ignorant confidence is a horrible, two headed beast.

A couple months ago, the Denver Broncos, who had the best offense in the NFL got obliterated by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.  I mean obliterated.  Smoked.  Owned.  Beat to submission.  With a final score of 43 – 8.  And after the clock ran out and players had their showers, it was time for the media to pounce on Peyton Manning and remind him how badly they were beat.  One guy asked the question if Manning was embarrassed of the team and the game.  And I loved his response.  He was visibly peeved as he said, “It’s not embarrassing at all.  I would never use that word.  There’s alot of professional football players in that room – the locker room – who put alot of hard work and effort into being here, into playing in that game.  The word embarrassing is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.”

I wish I had that perspective.  I wish I could translate that into my own life.  That even amidst my failures – especially my abysmal failures – I could be proud of who I am and what I’ve done.  I mean, here’s a guy, who is arguably the best quarterback of all time.  And yet, media and popular opinion give him a hard time of not getting the job done when it counts.  And even with all these voices in his ears, he can stand up for himself with confidence and boldness.  So what does he have that I don’t?  I mean besides a beautiful house, fancy cars, and millions & millions of dollars.

It reminds me of this guy I read about in the BIble named David.  David, amongst other things was a murdered, adulterer, and king, yet was still called “a man after God’s own heart”.  But before he was a king, he was pursued by another king, with the purpose of killing him.  And with this story in mind, we read his words in Psalm 23…

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the called of the shadow of death, I will free no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell n the house of the Lord forever.

Here’s a guy who has seen adversity.  Here’s a guy who’s made mistakes.  And yet, his confidence and his peace leads him to be still and secure.  And the reason is simple, his confidence isn’t based on who he is or what he’s done.  His confidence is in the Lord.  His confidence is in the will of God, not the actions of man.  Even amidst hardship, he’s confident in rest, goodness, love – all supplied by the Lord, not himself.

And so we can find rest.  We can find confidence.  But how do we maintain this confidence and rest?  How do we keep our sanity?  Well, indulge me for a moment, cuz I think I may be on to something…

Be confident in the work you’ve done, not fearful of the mistakes you’ve made – Sure you’ve screwed up.  We all have.  But you’ve also done some pretty awesome things!  You’ve loved your kids in moments they were unlovable.  You comforted them when they were hurting.  You’ve provided a love for them that no one else could provide.  You’ve done some awesome things!  Be confident in that!  Celebrate it!  Challenge your spouse to be on the lookout for great parenting and reward that with a pre-bedtime massage.  Disclaimer: I only mention that because there seems to be nothing I can do to get a pre-bedtime massage from my own wife.  But the fact remains, we’ve done some wicked awesome parenting!  Be confident of that!  Celebrate it!

Reflect on God’s goodness – The book of Deuteronomy is sometimes called the “Remember Book” because it’s all about remembrance, of who God is, what He’s done, and what He desires from us.  Chapter 6 tells us to teach our kids about God’s love, laws, and lessons “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  It goes on to say that when you are given gifts, when God supplies your needs, to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord”, who has given you and led you through so much.  So in your own life, remember.  Take stock of all God has done; the big and small things.  Remind yourself of them.  Tell your kids about them.  And in remembering, find the confidence and rest that comes from knowing that God has always and always will lead you.

Allow God’s faithfulness in the past to fuel your following Him in the present – How often do we do our own thing and wonder why it went wrong?  God says take a right, we take a left, and then yell at God for left being the wrong direction.  God’s grace and goodness will lead us.  But if we’re not willing to follow, that leadership is useless.  God will care for us.  But we have to allow Him to.  No one knows how to raise your kids better than our Father.  No one else knows their personality as perfectly.  No one else knows the amount of hairs on their heads in every moment.  No one else can see how each thought, each action, and each inaction shapes a person’s life.  So as you parent, be in prayer and be in tune.  God desires to lead your family.  Just let Him.  And find the rest, confidence, joy, and even forgiveness of imperfection that comes from working with the Lord.