Top 10 Things I Never Thought I’d Have to Say to My Kids

oops i said itParenthood is an adventure.  That may be an understatement, especially if you are the parent of multiples, more than one child, or aliens…..well, sometimes the kids seem like aliens.

If I had a recorder to capture every funny phrase or comment, I think we could easily take some of the top prizes on America’s Funniest Home Videos.  After all, have you noticed that the winners on that show are rarely funny.  My life almost seems like America’s Funniest Home Videos at times.

All that being said, here are the top 10 phrases that I never, ever, ever, ever thought that I would have to utter to my children and yet which have somehow found their way out of my piehole!

 

1. Boys, you don’t pee on each other in the shower.

2. Boys, we don’t grab each other THERE….

3. Boys, it’s inappropriate to sniff each other’s butt.  You aren’t dogs.

4. Boys, we wait until we’re actually in the McDonald’s bathroom before we pull our pants down to use the potty.

5. Boys, fly swatters are for killing bugs, not for brushing your sister’s hair with.

6. Boys, how much toilet paper do you really need when you go to the bathroom? (or Have we sufficiently showed you how to wipe your behind?)

7. If Mommy comes back there, do you think you can pee in a bag (said while driving in the van on a road trip)

8. Because I said so (this could very well be the kiss of death for every parent to signify that, yes, they have indeed turned into their mother/father)

9. When I was your age, we used to….. (nearly as big of a kiss of death as #9)

10. Forks were meant to get dirty at meals, not hands.

 

I am sure that there have been about 1000 other statements that have equaled these, but these were the first ones that came to mind.  Feel free to comment and add your own…….help me to know that I am not alone.

Conflict

conflictAs part of my job (and probably most people’s jobs) I have to sit through a fair share of meetings.  In order to stay engaged during those meetings, it’s important for me to pay attention and take part in discussions, otherwise, I find myself distracted and distracting.  Meetings become much more pleasurable to me when they include people who are smarter and wiser than I am, which happens frequently.  As a learner, I am always intrigued by discussions that push my own envelope a bit.

The other night, I was sitting in a meeting and I was partially engaged.  It probably helped that some of us had taken part in a healthy and competitive game of cornhole before the meeting.  I am finding more and more how important it is to not just be serious with one another, but also to have fun with one another, especially when you work closely together.  As we sat talking about the future and where God was leading us, someone said something which struck a chord with me.  We began to talk about conflict and someone uttered the phrase, “lack of conflict equals lack of trust.”

I sat there astounded and intrigued at this phrase.  Did I agree with it?  Was it true for me?  Did it seem true in the experiences that I had with others?  As I expounded upon it in my own mind, the conversation around the room also allowed for it to expound and I began to see the truth behind it.

We often treat conflict as if it is a bad thing.  Conflict and tension are often things that are to be neatly disposed of with as much expediency as possible.  But there is value to both when they stretch us and cause us to think in ways that are different than we would normally think.  Conflict and tension can cause us to break out of unhealthy patterns which may have lulled us to sleep or complacency.  They can shake us out of that slumber and cause us to reevaluate our approach.

To the phrase that was uttered though, a lack of conflict equals a lack of trust.  A further explanation of it prevents misunderstanding.  My own interpretation, and I think the intent of the speaker, is that if there is a lack of conflict, it may be because we are afraid to voice dissent to something.  A lack of trust can cause that fear and results in our inability or unwillingness to share the conflict that we have.  If we feel that trust has not been established, why would we be willing to share the things that conflict with our own opinions or desires?

There are certain settings where this might not seem as significant as others.  In families, this is important.  What happens when we disagree with the decisions of our spouse or children or parents or siblings?  How do we respond when we feel that inner conflict?  Do we voice our opinion or do we sweep that conflict under the rug, assuming that it will stay there, out of the way and unobtrusive?  If there is trust between us, we will feel safe to express that conflict, to be honest about our feelings, and to allow that conflict not to divide but to unite.

I grew up in a family where we would lay things on the table.  Family meetings during times of conflict were fairly commonplace.  I appreciate that my parents were willing to face things head on rather than sweep issues under the rug.  I am who I am because of the approach that I learned and have now embraced.  It was never comfortable, but it was worthwhile.

Lack of conflict equals lack of trust.  Think about the places where you have conflict, and the places where you don’t.  Are they places where trust has been established?  Do you feel open to share your opinions, especially those that might be in opposition to the majority?  Are you afraid to allow the conflict to come to the top and be dealt with?  If so, why is that the case?

No, I don’t particularly care for conflict, but I see its benefit.  Many of my life lessons have been learned through conflict and I can safely say that had those conflicts not occurred, I might be lacking in some of my valuable experience.  Think about it next time you face conflict.  Will you face it head on or sweep it under the rug?

Deadlines

DeadlineDeadlines.  We all have them.  Some of us take them more seriously than others.  In fact, I would say that there are two extreme approaches towards deadlines: those who plan ahead and get things done early and those who wait until the last minute until “crunch time” hits.

While I was in seminary, I found myself being one of the former, planning far in advance.  I think my wife realized what a nerd I am as I would get my syllabi at the beginning of each quarter and whiteboard my entire quarter.  I would keep my deadlines always in front of me.  More than once during that time, I mentioned to people that I wish that I had that kind of discipline while I was going through college.  I had it in high school and grad school, but somehow I seem to have misplaced it when it came time for me to go through engineering school.

Really, the reason for my intensity and discipline was because of the life stage that I found myself in at the time.  I did not have much room for error and I knew that if I wanted to enjoy life at all and not complete isolate myself from my family as school deadlines approached, I would need to take a more disciplined approach.

I don’t think I am alone in the fact that deadlines for projects that I find interesting are much more palatable.  When I am working towards something that I enjoy, it is much easier.  When the project is boring or uninteresting, it becomes somewhat of a drudgery to push towards it.

Meanwhile, when I have a project that excites me, I often find that the time goes too quickly.  I don’t get to spend nearly the time that I would like to diving into it and immersing myself in it.  That seems to be the nature of our schedules and our culture.  We finish one project and we move on to the next big project.  We do this at work.  We do this at home.  We do this with our families.  One thing is accomplished and I wonder if we really take advantage of the opportunity when it is accomplished to relish in the moment and celebrate.

I have found myself living from deadline to deadline in the last few years.  As I think on it, it seems that the reasoning behind that has more to do with maintaining my own sanity and to preserve my mental well-being.  Sometimes it becomes easier to break things down into a series of small deadlines and milestones rather than looking at the overall, ominous task.  At least that’s the way it is for me.

My awareness in the midst of this milestone or deadline living is heightened.  It’s too easy to be so task focused that we miss the journey and the process.  Do we find joy in the pursuit of our goals?

One of my projects recently involved hanging a new storm door.  I involved my oldest son and he seemed to enjoy the moments that we spent together.  Every time that I do a project on the house, I try to involve at least one of my kids.  Deadlines are much more fun when they are shared by others.

Life will continue to move on and I expect that deadlines will always be a part of it.  I still enjoy getting things done in advance of the deadline, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and additional cause to celebrate.  Along the way, I just need that constant reminder to enjoy the moments that inch me towards that deadline.  As I do, there is joy in the journey and the celebration at the achievement of the deadline can be enjoyed by more than just me.

Party Hangover

hangover3I’ve got a party hangover.  It’s not because I drank too much or ate too much.  It’s really just because the party is over.

Have you ever planned for something for such a long time and invested so much time and energy into it to finally have it come along and be gone in the blink of an eye?  That’s kind of what happened this weekend.  My wife had been planning the first of the Fall birthday parties for my younger son.  The house was decorated, the cake was made, the party favors were purchased, the piñata was filled, and the house was just about as clean as it was going to get.

The party was a success.  My son was elated and was even able to wear his new Clark Kent/Superman costume (complete with black hair spray which was a royal pain in the neck to get out of his hair).  His friends came, the remaining family that we have in the area was able to make it over as well, and the weather mostly held up, at least enough for us to do some outdoor activities.

After a big event, it’s kind of hard for me to keep my demeanor up.  It’s kind of a letdown to come off the adrenaline rush of preparing and then executing a party, even if it is for 4 and 5 year old kids.  It’s like all of your energy was put in one place and then that place is gone or past.

This happens to me on Monday mornings after experiencing time together as a church family on Sundays.  When you have tasted the joy and excitement of what can be and know that it’s possible to experience the togetherness of family and the communion with God, it can easily become a focal point where we constantly try to achieve an emotion or feeling rather than seeking to connect with one another and with God.

I can see how people can be drawn into addictions.  When you experience a “high” of sorts, you constantly want to re-experience that feeling and you will do whatever it takes to achieve it.  That’s why addicts will do whatever it takes to get that next fix.

I wonder if we have sometimes created “addicts” within the church, people who are constantly searching for an emotion rather than seeking for an encounter with the living God.  I know that, if I’m not careful, I can easily fall into this trap.

But there is a balance between seeking an emotion and being overly cerebral in our encounter with God.  We don’t want to let our emotions carry us away, but we also don’t want to overthink things.  When our pursuit of God becomes overly cerebral, we can easily fall into the trap that the Pharisees fell into so many years ago.

This Monday morning, I sit in two different party hangovers: the hangover from my son’s birthday party and the hangover from experiencing God in community through my church.  Neither of them is a bad thing as long as I know what to do with them.  Looking at the pictures of the party brings a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart.  Looking at pictures and remembering faces from our time together as a church will do the same.

This morning, I am grateful.  God has allowed me the chance to do what I do and given me the blessing of family, both immediate and “adopted,” with whom to experience it.  A few weeks from now, we’re having birthday party #2.  I imagine that I will feel similarly that following Monday morning.

Every week I have the opportunity to come together as a community with my brothers and sisters in church.  I hope and pray that I continue to feel the letdown of that experience after it is gone, not because of the high that it gave me, but because of the knowledge that we encountered the living God when we came together.  There is a reason why the writer to the Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 10:24-25, “24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  May we continue to experience the party hangover until that day when we start the “party” that will never end.

A Sigh of Relief

gods_gift of familyToday is my younger son’s birthday.  He is five years old.  We weren’t even in Virginia for a year when he was born.  Just like his brother, we were surprised at his delivery as to what gender child we were having.  He was named after his great-great uncle, Tucker.  He was my father’s uncle who preached at my father’s ordination service.  He was from Virginia as well.

Tucker is smart, funny, and full of all kinds of mischief.  My ongoing joke with my wife, our family, and friends is that we were destined to have a third child in order for him to live into his destiny of being a middle child.  From a birth order perspective, he fits perfectly into the “middle child” stereotype.  He is strong-willed, independent, and much smarter than he lets anyone know.  He is loving and compassionate, but he hides that with a layer of toughness.  When he was born, I was afraid whether or not I would be able to love him as much as his brother, just natural emotions of having a second child.  He’s captured my heart and I love him so much.  He and his brother are similar and yet so different.

Sunday is my daughter’s birthday.  She will be two years old.  I am thankful that she won’t remember much of the first two years of her life as they’ve been fairly tumultuous.  She never knew my mom, her grandmother, who died just two months before she was born.  She barely knew my dad, her grandfather, who died when she was 19 months old.  After having two boys, we thought that a girl would be fairly low maintenance, at least in the early years (or until she became a teenager).  We were wrong.  I am convinced that she inherited some of the mischievousness of my mom.  She’s a climber, a spiller, a biter, a teaser, and so much more.  She is strong-willed as well.

We weren’t sure whether we were going to have a third child.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted one.  While we weren’t trying for a third, we weren’t taking precautions to make sure that a third was out of the question.  When I found out that we were having her, I just wasn’t sure what to make of the news (you can read a little bit more in depth about my angry response that day here).  It was just a few weeks before my mom was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer and the beginning of a very long and hard two years in my life.

As I wrestled with the news, I knew that God was up to something.  Unlike her brothers, we decided to find out what gender child we were having.  When the ultrasound technician told us we were having a girl, we were astonished.  “Are you sure?” my wife asked.  We were in such disbelief after two boys, and the news was met with a sense of joy and dread as I knew that she would most likely never meet my mom.  I was overjoyed to be having a little girl but so disappointed that my mom would never meet her on this side of eternity.  When my wife was pregnant with our first, I secretly hoped it was a girl, but I wouldn’t trade my oldest son for anything.

This is a weekend of celebration of the lives of my two younger children.  I am grateful for them.  I never knew how hard it would be to have three children.  When we entered into the realm of “zone defense” from the previous “man to man” defense that we had before, it was a fairly rude awakening for us.  I usually listen to wise counsel, so I’m wondering who I can blame for not telling me about the difficulty that a third child would bring.  Still, while I wouldn’t trade any of them as they each bring their own unique sense of character and joy to my life, I wanted to ensure that a fourth child wouldn’t be in the cards for us (at least as much as was physically possible on my part).  So that’s just what I did.

As the father of three children, knowing that I was beyond pushing my luck having a third child, I find my sense of joy in unusual places.  There are plenty of times throughout the day and in all of the hours that I spend with my children where I find joy.  But there is also a strange sense of joy and relief in knowing that three’s company….and four would not only be a crowd for us, but also might just drive me right over the edge.  Every time that I realize that we are finished having children, while there is a small twinge of regret (fleeting, almost), there is an even greater sense that causes me to tip my head to the sky and utter a heartfelt “thanks” to God for the three children that I have but an even greater “thanks” for the fact that I may actually retain some small amount of my sanity by quitting not quite while I was ahead.

Yes, I am grateful for all that God has given me and I will celebrate my children heartily this weekend.  At the same time, I will breathe a deep sigh of relief that God knew what he was doing and only gave me as much as I could handle (although I keep wondering about that one).  I love you, Dylan, Tucker, and Chloe.  You guys make life exciting and fun and you help to instill hope in me for the future.  Thanks for bearing with a dad who always tries to know what he’s doing but rarely accomplishes it.  Thanks for showing me grace in ways that I never imagined.  Thanks for shining a light in my dark days and for teaching me how to love more and more each day.  You are three of the greatest gifts that God has ever given to me.

Rejection

rejectedA friend of mine posted an article on social media last week that caught my attention.  It didn’t catch my attention for the reason that it was catching others’ attention though.  I was not reading deeper into this article about a baby elephant being rejected by its mother.  I really read it at face value and it struck me because rejection is such a powerful force, and according to the article, extends beyond just humans to other animals as well.

If you stop to think about the harshness of rejection, you might empathize with this baby elephant.  If you extend that to those of us who have experienced rejection on our own, it becomes that much more painful.

To reject someone is to tell them, in a way, that you are better than them, or that they are worse than you.  To reject them is to acknowledge that they are not worthy of being associated with you or being in your presence.  People feel this kind of rejection and it cuts deeply into who they are, they feel that pain and it feels as personal as it is.

To be rejected is to feel abandoned, cast away, left alone.  Even when rejections seem insignificant or inconsequential, it is very hard not to take them personally.  We may be rejected for a job, for a project proposal, from a school, for a role in a play, and each of those rejections is felt deeply and personally by us.  Is it really possible to separate our own personal connection to the rejection that we experience?  Is it possible to not feel it so deeply?

Not only does the one being rejected feel that it reflects personally on them, deep down inside, when we reject someone, aren’t we really saying, “you’re not the right person for me/this/ that/etc.”?  As much as we might try to convince ourselves otherwise, making a personal statement against a person by rejecting them, deep down inside, if we really analyze our intentions, is a personal thing.

True, there are times when rejection is appropriate.  I hope that someone will reject a marriage proposal if it’s not the right thing.  It doesn’t lessen the blow of the rejection, but in the long run, it will be healthier for everyone involved.  Sometimes, when we are rejected, there is something that is better waiting around the corner for us, but we often don’t have the privilege of seeing it at the time.

The poor.  The broken.  Those who have been cast aside by society, they have been rejected and they have taken it personally.  How can they not?  This is the reason liberation theology resonates with so many people because it puts Jesus on that level with those who have been cast aside and rejected.  It takes a look at how he relates to those who have been rejected.  Christ was rejected, cast aside, when he was arrested, tried, and crucified.  We see a picture of this in Isaiah 53 and surrounding chapters with the “suffering servant” of whom the prophet speaks.

The writer of Hebrews connected these points when they wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  Jesus experienced the suffering that we know as human beings, and so much more.  But we can’t see that as the sole reason why he came.  In fact, if he only came so that he could empathize with us, then the cross was not necessary.  Christ came to be our sacrifice and to accomplish what we can never accomplish on our own.  The fact that he experienced suffering and was able to relate to our suffering is an act of God’s grace.

How helpful is this when we pray?  When we lift up our concerns, our frustrations, our thanksgiving, how much more meaningful is it to us to know that the One to whom we pray understands more deeply than we could even imagine?  He experienced rejection…….and he did it on our behalf.  That’s powerful.

I can’t think of many people for whom I would willingly experience rejection.  Rejection stinks no matter how you slice it, because, let’s face it, none of us ever wants to feel rejected or abandoned.  So to take that on for people that you don’t know or, worse yet, people who hate you, that’s a difficult thing.  But that’s just what Christ did for us.

The next time I feel rejected or cast aside, I know it will hurt, it will be painful, but what can God do with that pain?  How can it be transformed into something beautiful?  That’s not to say we adopt a sadistic approach towards rejection, longing for it, wishing and waiting for it to come, but when it comes (and it will inevitably come) will we look beyond the pain to the potential?  What would have happened if Jesus didn’t see past his rejection at the restoration and redemption that would be accomplished through it?

We Have A Hope

I had a post all written for today, but like a good writer should, I decided to do a little bit of research.  My post was all about a guy that I had met a number of years ago when I played at The Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center, in Asheville, North Carolina.  But my knowledge of this guy was limited to what I knew of him in the few days of our brief interaction more than eight years ago.

This guy had lost his entire family in a flash flood in the middle of the night (his website is heresuffering).  His wife and four children were all killed and he miraculously survived.  It was a tragic story and I have thought about it often in the time since.  What I had written about in the post was the resolve and demeanor of this guy who had lost his everything.  I didn’t even have children then, but I imagined how I would have felt had I been in his place and I couldn’t even think about reacting in half the way that he did.

As I researched, I discovered that there were a lot of people who were suspicious of his resolve.  Personally, I attributed it to a strong faith in God and an incredible support system.  It didn’t seem very odd to me until I really started thinking it through and until I remembered the way tragedy struck someone else whose life is in the public eye: Steven and Mary Beth Chapman.

Years ago, when my wife (then girlfriend) was still in college and the world was bracing itself for Y2K, my wife lived in the basement of a house in Coventry, Connecticut with two of her close friends during their senior year of college.  One of her friends had gotten involved with promoting within the Christian music world in the Boston area.  At the time, she was dating Steven Curtis Chapman’s keyboard player, so she invited him to celebrate Y2K together with us in their basement apartment in the “middle of nowhere” Connecticut.

I was fascinated by his story and his take on SCC (as I will call Chapman for short).  He just seemed to think that he had a positive attitude all the time, almost like Pollyanna.  He seemed to think that SCC had just not been through a lot of difficulty in life and he thought that his reaction and outlook would be a lot different had he experienced some tragedy or difficulty in life.

Fast forward eight years and tragedy was exactly what SCC and his family experienced.  One of his adopted daughters was run over in the family driveway by her older brother.  She succumbed to her injuries and the family was grief-stricken.  Being in the public spotlight, they did not shy away from talking about it (you can see one of their interviews here).  They were very frank and candid, not blaming God but being real about their grief, loss, and sadness.  In fact, contrary to the belief of the musician that I met, SCC did not fold under pressure or dramatically change his outlook, he actually gained more respect in my eyes as he did not pretend to be anything other than a grieving father in the midst of this tragedy.

As I thought all of this through after writing my initial post, I couldn’t help but wonder at the difference.  Now, while I’m not an expert in counseling or in the area of grief, I do know that everyone does not respond to grief the same way.  To prescribe an identical approach towards grief is to be guilty of ignorance.  There may be similar experiences, but no one responds exactly the same way.  Still, it seemed very odd to me to know that there were little similarities and even very large gaps between these two responses to grief.  One man had lost his adopted daughter, the other had lost his wife and four children.  Both men had strong faiths which they leaned upon.  Both men have been used by God to tell their story and make a difference in other lives.

When all is said and done, both of these men experienced tragedy that I hope never to parallel or duplicate.  The loss of my parents was devastating enough and I would prefer to keep my family around for a while.  Yet, I know that my hope lies beyond what is right in front of me.  Romans 8 gives us a picture of the brokenness of creation.  Accidents happen, tragedy strikes, questions arise which seem unanswerable.  Trite and comfortable or spiritual answers may be “correct” but not appropriate.

If I were in the place of either man, I just don’t know how I would respond, and to be honest, I’d rather not even try to imagine it.  Only God knows their pain and suffering.  It still seems odd to me that there would be such a difference in responses (and I’m not the only one, check this out).

Grumbling vs. Voicing Concerns

GUWG-GRUMBLINGIn light of yesterday’s post regarding my “Happy Folder,” it seems appropriate to hit on a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I have seen and received both positive and negative feedback during my time in ministry.  But I also had a lot of experience through my dad, a pastor, even before I became a pastor myself.  Growing up in the home of a pastor, I was exposed to a lot of the stuff that happens behind the scenes within the church.  You might say that the curtain was rolled back.  I heard the phone calls, I saw the long hours, and I sensed the emotional and physical drain on both of my parents as my father cared for and shepherded the congregation.

I was too young when my dad experienced some of his earlier difficulties in ministry, but towards the end of his time in ministry, he experienced some more difficulties which I was privy to and which I was able to see in all of their ugliness.

Difficulties within the church are nothing new.  Not sure if there is documentation of the earliest ones, but it probably didn’t take long after the Day of Pentecost for people to start bickering and arguing about how to do things.  Acts 15 gives us the account of a disagreement that took place between Paul and Barnabas, two friends and partners in ministry.  Disagreements can have a way of setting close friends against one another.

Not that the church is different from other organizations and institutions, but the fact that we are called to live by a higher standard.  So, it’s always a little disappointing when you discover that some of the things that you thought would not take place within the church exist.

If you hang around within the church for any length of time, no matter what church it is, you will eventually begin to hear people grumbling or complaining.  Part of who we are as human beings lies in our selfishness.  We want what we want, when we want it, and are unwilling to wait or compromise.  But how do we deal with this within the church.  We might say that it’s a problem that all churches face, but if we look to Scripture to inform our worldview and actions, we will quickly find that it’s not a behavior that is becoming of those who call themselves followers of Christ.

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul writes these words, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

When it comes to the idea of grumbling or complaining, I think that there are many within the church who might simply say that they are “voicing their concerns” and that the two are synonymous with one another, but a further study of the Greek word that Paul uses for grumbling, we see a difference between the two.

Paul uses the word γογγύζω (gonguzo), which translates to “grumbling or murmuring” but also can have a deeper meaning of “speaking secretly or whispering.”  Therein lies the difference between grumbling and voicing concerns.  When you grumble, you speak in secret, you don’t necessarily let the people who you are frustrated with know that you are frustrated with them.  You whisper about the things that are frustrating you rather than bringing them to the person with whom you have the gripe.  Grumbling involves speaking to people who are not directly involved with the problem or the solution.  If we aren’t careful, regardless of our intent, when we grumble we may come across as not even desiring to see a resolution to the issues at hand.  As long as we “vent” we feel better even though we get no closer to resolution.

On the other hand, voicing concerns means that we are actually seeking out the people with whom we have issues.  We follow the Scripture of Matthew 18 which tells us to go directly to the people who we have an issue with rather than going around them.  When we triangulate and involve others that cannot help us to solve the issue, we go against Jesus’ command in Matthew 18.  Grumbling is about voicing our concerns to all of the wrong people and will eventually just lead to gossip and even slander.

It’s not particularly difficult to go to the people with whom we have our issues, it just seems a little easier not to go to them.  Churches are full of people who struggle through this, wouldn’t it be great if they started to become full of people who follow the Scriptural mandate more often than not?  Wouldn’t it be great if grumbling and complaining were the exception?

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you don’t agree or something bothers you, regardless of whether it’s in a church, a company, a club, or whatever, ask yourself who you have your beef with.  Ask who is the person to whom I need to go to bring resolution.  If we fail to ask, we’ll just keeping coming up with the same answer and we’ll fail to change things.  But if we ask ourselves the questions, we will hopefully find ourselves following the mandate in Matthew 18 and we will probably find our conflicts being resolved in a much healthier manner than had we gone around triangulating to everyone other than the ones involved.

Try it out, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t work out better.  Might be harder, might be uncomfortable, but in the end, it will be worth it.

The Happy Folder

Greeting-cards-pileWhen I started in full-time vocational ministry more than nine years ago someone gave me the suggestion to keep a file of good notes that I got.  Anything that struck my attention or brought a smile to my face would go in this file.  I can’t remember who it was who gave me the suggestion, but boy, if I could remember I would give them a big, big hug.  Over those nine years, I’ve had to pull out that file on many occasions.

Over those years, I’ve gotten lots of notes.  Some were “Thank you” notes, some were “Drop dead” notes, and some were just cards for special occasions.  It’s such a jolt of encouragement to open that file and read some of those notes from people who appreciated something I did, something I said, or just the job that I was doing.  Believe it or not, I’ve actually saved some of those “Drop dead” notes.  It’s always important to keep myself humble in the midst of everything that I do.  Reading notes from people who I’ve ticked off, frustrated, or who just don’t like the way I wear my face is an important part of that humility process.

I never really kept tabs on the specific days when I opened the folder the most, but I can almost assure you that a large percentage of the times that I did were Monday mornings.  A pastor that I once worked with told me that some pastors didn’t believe in God again until noon on Mondays.  Now, that’s a gross overstatement, it doesn’t happen until at least 2PM.  No, no, just kidding.  But Sunday has the potential of sapping the emotional and physical energy from a pastor if he/she isn’t careful and if God is really moving in the hearts of the pastor and their people alike.

Last week, I had a friend ask me what it felt like the day after a particularly encouraging time together as a church body.  Honestly, there were a bunch of years in there where it didn’t really make a difference because Sundays just weren’t that encouraging to me.  Nothing incredible was happening, I didn’t really see a lot of God work happening, so it was frustrating.  Lately, it’s been almost the complete opposite of that as I have felt like so much is happening.  Coming down off of the emotional high that it can cause can be a real downer.

As I was cleaning up around the house for some upcoming birthday parties, I stumbled upon a lot of notes.  In the past two years, I’ve lost both parents and was asked to resign from my job as we went through a church split.  Needless to say, I have received a lot of notes in those two years.  What I stumbled upon was really the outpouring of love that I received during that time.

I read through every note that was in the pile again, some more personal than others.  As I read, tears began to form in my eyes as I was just overwhelmed by the love and support that I received over the last few years.  It wasn’t just during these hard times though, it was fairly normal for me to receive notes “just because.”  I have been so blessed by people who took the time to write notes to me, all of them handwritten on cards.

Sure, I’ve received my fair share of notes that don’t edify me or make my day, but they have been far overshadowed by all of these notes.  That’s kind of what this folder is for, to pull out on all of those days when the streams of discouragement seem to be flooding in.  Just a few notes is generally all that it takes to help me remember that things aren’t as bad as I thought that they were.

So, next time you feel the urge to send a note to somebody, follow that urge.  Take the five minutes that it takes to simply write a few words down on a card.  Send it off and pray that it gets there at just the right time.  I can tell you from experience, it will mean so much more than you could ever know.  Who knows, maybe when you’re the one feeling down, someone might just return the favor.

Parenting Mistakes

MistakesI’ve been a parent for just under seven years, not an incredibly long time, but it’s amazing how many mistakes you can make in such a short amount of time.  I’m sure that most parents have been there before and maybe will be again.  We’re not alone when we feel like we are the last placed candidate for the “Parent of the Year” award.

Misery loves company, so I decided if for no other reason than to give you a laugh, to share my top 5 parenting mistakes of these past seven years.

1. Never say, “Because I’m the parent and I said so.”

Years ago, when I was a new parent, I smiled as I heard my brother (who has no children) talk about having an engaging and in depth conversation and discussion with a 2 year old.  It was fictitious, it hadn’t happened, so I left wondering about the ability of a 2 year old to reason.  It’s pretty much like trying to preach to a rock, it just doesn’t do anything but get you frustrated if you’re waiting for a response or logical behavior.

While reasoning with children is fairly fruitless, that doesn’t mean you don’t offer them at least something.  I cringed the day that those words came out of my mouth.  “Because I said so” may be used as a last resort, but it should be the final, final, final, final straw.  I think I used it too early.  While there’s probably no irreparable harm done, I wish I could go back and at least make the effort to explain things a little better.

2. Be careful little eyes what you see

My boys have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  They’ll be 5 and 7 in a matter of weeks.  I don’t think my wife is thrilled about that.  I watched it with them after having seen it myself about half a dozen times.  It’s fantasy, it’s make-believe, but it’s still kind of brutal.  There’s no sex or bad language, but there’s plenty of violence.

While I’ve been more cautious about other things that they watch, I felt like the good far outweighed the bad in LOTR.  It wasn’t until months later when my wife said something that struck me.  She told me that we need to guard their hearts since they aren’t quite sure how to go about doing that for themselves right now.  That certainly got a point across to me and I realized that age-appropriate materials for processing were essential.

Of course, there’s the potential for backfiring on this one as they get older.  I saw “Flashdance” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” at friends’ houses.  Just have to explain why it’s not a good idea to watch it (refer to #1 and don’t say, “Because I said so” here).

I still don’t see LOTR as a big deal, but I could easily see myself being too dismissive or lax in what I allow.  Better to be cautious than too liberal in your viewing choices.  Still working on this one.

3. Watch what you promise…even if it’s in passing

Boy did I learn this one the hard way!  I had mentioned something in passing to my kids like, “Maybe we can go to Sweet Frog/the pool/Toys R Us later.”  After saying it, I either forget or realized that we had run out of time.  My wife finally asked me after one of these instances what I had told the kids.  After I told her what I had said, she told me to never say that since they interpret it as not a possibility but an absolute.  So, I’ve taken to just driving places and letting them figure out where we’re going or where we are once we get there regardless of the constant badgering of “where are we going?” questions.  If I do say anything, it’s usually VERY SPECIFIC like, “If we have time, we may go to [fill in the blank].”  I’ve learned to be explicit in my statements, even to the point of making sure that my children understand beforehand so as to not be disappointed later on.  Still not perfect at it, but a work in progress.

4. Sometimes you just have to try harder

This kind of goes with #1, too often, I’ve given up on explaining something because it’s been too hard or it’s going to take me too much time.  I gave up always trying to have the right answers, for children and adults alike, a long time ago.  Having “canned” answers for things is ineffective for me.  At the same time, to have answers to some harder questions isn’t the worst thing to explore.

Last week, my son was trying to understand the Trinity, you know, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I was trying to figure out an explanation for him and in my haste, my mind reached towards Transformers (which, my friend kindly pointed out, is modalism).  Thankfully, my son didn’t bite and eventually started asking about something else like comics, superheroes, ice cream, or another thing that captured his brain.

But it’s too easy to come up with quick answers and get frustrated when trying to explain harder and deeper concepts to our children.  There have been many times over the past few years where I’ve really had to stop and wrestle to think through just how best to describe something.  It’s been a good thing, I think, to force myself to simplify my explanations.  If I can explain something to a child, I can explain it to just about anyone, and that’s a good thing!  Pat or trite answers or, even worse, dismissive statements won’t lead to a fostering of my children’s desire for knowledge.  I want to instill in them a desire to know more and learn more.  My parents died when my boys were 2 and 4 and then 4 and 6, that’s an easy way to figure that you can’t give cookie cutter answers.  Sometimes the easy thing to do is not the right thing to do.

5. Do as I say AND as I do

Just like the last point was related to an earlier one, so is this.  Children (and everyone, for that matter) learn not only by hearing, but by seeing and watching as well.  Lately, we have constantly had to tell our sons to be careful what they do because their younger sister will inevitably copy them in whatever it is that they do.  Jumping on the couch.  She’ll do it.  Jumping from the bunk bed.  She’ll do it.  Climbing up the back of the minivan.  She’ll do it. Riding the scooter.  She’ll do it.   Just about anything that she sees them doing is fair game.

In the same way, just about anything that our kids see us doing is fair game.  If we find ourselves on our phones or gadgets a lot, we shouldn’t be surprised when they have their nose stuck in an iPod rather than a book or paying attention to us.  If we have a habit of yelling at people in parking lots and on highways, we shouldn’t be surprised when they start doing the same thing.  If we do it, whether we think they see us or not, they will most likely pick it up and begin to emulate us.  They look up to us, we are examples.

Yes, I’ve made some mistakes (way more than five) in these seven years of being a dad.  I am sure that I will make plenty more.  The reason that I highlight these is because I feel like I’ve learned from them, and that’s one of the most important things about mistakes.  So, if you’re a parent and you feel the same way, give yourself some grace and keep on keeping on.  Just keep learning.  If you’re a parent that thinks you do things perfectly, either brace yourself for your first mistake, or give me your phone number so that I can call you for some advice.