Above Reproach

I was at the gym this morning and one of the other patrons lamented the further allegations that have come out against Supreme Court judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The words that were uttered were, “This will set precedent for everything.”

It was one of those moments in life when I tried my best not to show what I was feeling inside. I really didn’t want to get into it there in the gym. The words that kept playing over and over in my head were, “But what if?” What if the allegations are true?

Most of us, if we are honest, can probably recount at least a story or two of incidents in high school or college that we wish could be wiped out of our memory and the memory of those around us. We’ve had our share of indiscretions that we would just as soon forget. But our desire to forget them doesn’t wipe them out of our memory or the memory of those who were involved.

Some of those incidents may have involved alcohol or drugs. Some may have involved behavior that we were guilty of when under the influence of those things. Our regret over that behavior and those choices doesn’t change the fact that what we did still happened, no matter how much we might want to wipe the slate clean.

I believe in the grace of God and the forgiveness of sin, but forgiveness doesn’t change the fact that there are still consequences when we make bad decisions. Just because we receive grace doesn’t mean we get a free pass for the consequences. Yes, we are forgiven. No, we can’t pay for that forgiveness, but sometimes, we still have to deal with consequences.

I’m not saying that Kavanaugh is guilty, nor am I saying that he is innocent. I’m saying that we all have to own up to our mistakes, regardless of how long it’s been since those mistakes happened and no matter how much we may have grown and matured since.

I was a resident advisor in college and I witnessed more than my fair share of indiscretions around campus. I had multiple heavy conversations that dealt with sexual assault and I wouldn’t wish those on anyone, especially not the ones who were the victims. My heart broke every time that I looked in the eyes of a victim.

I’ve heard multiple people trumpet Kavanaugh’s innocence because of the time that has elapsed since the alleged incidents. I’ve also heard some of those same people talk about the lack of proof that exists. After all, these are just allegations.

But what do you do with allegations?

The biggest lesson that I learn in all of this is to do my best to live above reproach. Sure, there are still people who will heap accusations at you when you do this, but if you live above reproach, those allegations shouldn’t stick. If further allegations come out, it seems that there are some people who cry, “Conspiracy” rather than entertaining the thought that these allegations may be true.

We aren’t talking about statute of limitations here either. What has been done has been done and like I said before, there are repercussions to our actions. Are we willing to face those repercussions? Are we willing to admit fault and own up to those mistakes?

I could write a whole other post on consistency here, but that diminishes the need for us to live lives above reproach. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, when someone is accused for that person to say, “But look at him, he did this too!” That’s not the point. The point is individual responsibility and living lives of integrity.

When I’ve made a mistake or wronged someone, I have to own up to that. If there are repercussions of that, I need to face them, regardless of how long it’s been. Yes, what’s happened in the past is in the past, but if there are past indiscretions that have caused longstanding hurt and pain, and if it’s taken a person a long time to finally muster up the courage to talk about it, does that mean that I am absolved of those repercussions? I don’t think so.

I’m not perfect, none of us are, but I can do my best to live that way. When I don’t, there is grace, but grace still doesn’t cover over all the consequences of my actions. Yes, I believe that I have a savior who has paid the price for my sins, but his paying the price still doesn’t change the fact that some of what I’ve done may require an additional payment on my part, will I own up, admit it, and be willing to take responsibility? Will you?

Jared, Josh, and Jesus

jared and joshUp until a few weeks ago, I had no idea who or what Ashley Madison was. While I probably knew that websites and services like Ashley Madison existed, I didn’t know them by name. Maybe I hoped that they weren’t true, kind of like those stories that you hear about as a kid that you keep hoping beyond hope aren’t true. Maybe it was a case of “ignorance is bliss” for me and I didn’t want to know that Ashley Madison existed.

I’ve never seen an episode of 19 Kids and Counting either. I’ve heard the Duggars name tossed around here and there, but I just kind of figured they were one of those crazy homeschool families that all of my homeschooling friends didn’t want to be associated with and all of my non-Christian friends wanted to label as “those weird Christians.”

While I eat at Subway from time to time, it’s not among my favorite places to go, regardless of its ties to my home state of Connecticut. I’ve not found myself gravitating towards the Subway diet and Jared’s connection and promotion of the food chain has had no influence on my preference or lack thereof for it.

And then, like that, all that I needed to do to hear about Ashley Madison, Josh Duggar, Jared Fogle, and the downward spiral of all of the above was to turn on the TV or hop on the internet. These names were plastered all over the screens. While it’s been said that no publicity is bad publicity, I don’t think that this is the kind of publicity that you ever want.

I mean, who wants everyone to know that the values that you touted and stood so strongly in favor of were actually a sham and that you had been living your life as a phony and a hypocrite? Who wants everyone to know that the position that you had gained to influence the world for good had actually been turned around and used for bad? Who wants everyone to know that despite the “put together” outward appearance that you had been conveying, there was a whole lot of other stuff going on beneath the surface? Who wants everyone to know what evil REALLY lurks in the hearts of men?

News of Josh Duggar’s involvement with Ashley Madison, as is often the case with the downfall of vocal Christians, was cause for rejoicing for those who consider Christianity to be a sham and who are looking for any and every possible way to disprove it because of the imperfections and flaws of its followers. It made me wonder if every ideology that was ever embraced should be questioned because of the flawed and imperfect people who embrace it.

It’s so easy in the midst of all of this to point fingers and say, “That would never be me,” but I’ve lived enough life of my own to know that the distance between me and an act of indiscretion is probably much shorter than I can even imagine. How many times have we heard someone publicly condemn a behavior only to be found guilty of that very behavior not too far in the future? How many times have we judged a person’s behavior without actually examining our own heart to see what really lurks there beneath the surface?

I’m not saying that what Josh and Jared did wasn’t wrong, it was and there are consequences for bad behavior, but instead of pointing fingers, maybe it’s an opportunity for us to examine ourselves and see if there are safeguards, guardrails, and other protections that we need to put in place in our own lives to avoid making some of the same mistakes. Not that we’re all just one step away from an affair or from being charged for child pornography and soliciting minors for sex, but maybe there are other things that seem more innocuous in comparison from which we are only one step away.

There have been times when I’ve stopped to look at my heart and I’ve been ashamed of what I saw there. There have been times when I’ve realized that as much as God has transformed some areas of my life, there are some other areas that need far more transformation than I’d like to admit. There have been times that I have begun to fully appreciate and understand just how deeply I need to be saved. There have been times when I see just how far I fall short of representing him and of being made more and more like him every day.

I don’t know what’s lurking in the hearts of Josh Duggar or Jared Fogle, but I know what’s lurking in my heart, and it’s not always pretty. I guess admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step towards fixing it. I’m not perfect and I won’t stand up and attest to any contrary admission. I need Jesus. On my own, I could be the subject of countless headlines, the recipient of endless public ridicule and scorn. On my own, I would simply do my best to present a whitewashed image of who I am while desperately hoping and praying that no one peeked to see what was really inside. Just like the Wizard of Oz said to the misfits seeking answers and gifts, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” On my own, I could do a really good job pretending that I had it all together and that the filthiness of sin hadn’t touched me.

I need Jesus.

I am striving every day to allow my life to be changed and transformed by a power that lies outside of me. I am striving every day to stop pointing my fingers so desperately at others in an effort to make me feel better about myself. I am striving every day to let the trips, falls, and failures of others act as a mirror instead to help me see just what’s lurking inside of me that desperately needs changing. I need these things to be revealed in me so that I know what needs to be changed.

Tomorrow, there will be another story in the news of someone who has fallen from grace, someone who has pretended to be something that they’re not. Tomorrow, there will be another story in the news of someone who has done something that appalls us, that may even make our skin crawl. Maybe instead of pointing our fingers at them, we need instead to take a closer look at ourselves to find out just what we’re pretending doesn’t exist within our own hearts. I think if we spent a little more time looking at our own areas in need of transformation, we might fixate less on what needs to be changed in others, and in the end, maybe we could actually help others with their stuff after we’ve allowed transformation to happen in ourselves.

Run Far and Fast

I was reading the story of David and Bathsheba this morning is 2 Samuel 11. The story never grows old to me and in some ways, I feel like shouting at the page the way that I would shout at the screen while watching a cheesy horror movie. “Don’t do it, David. You’re gonna regret this!” It’s like those slow motion moments in life where you can see everything playing out but you can’t do anything to change it or make things different.

For those of you not familiar with the story, David, the King of Israel, is hanging out at home during the season when most kings are off with their troops at war. He finds himself struggling with insomnia and he does what most of us would probably do if the same thing happened to us, he goes for a walk. His walk takes him on the roof of the palace where he can most likely survey his kingdom, looking over it all from his vantage point, he could probably see just about everything…..and he did. While his eyes overlooked his kingdom, they happened upon a beautiful woman bathing on her roof.

Instead of going back inside and trying to find something else to help him sleep, David sent someone to find out about the woman. Once he found out who she was, he sent messengers to retrieve her. Once they had brought her to him, he slept with her. She gets pregnant and David’s bad decision process continues to spiral out of control as he concocts a plan to have her husband sleep with her to make it seem like he was the one who impregnated her. Then, after all of his other plans fail, he has her husband killed.

The text reads fairly quickly through some of David’s bad decisions. “But David remained in Jerusalem.” “…and David sent someone to find out about her.” “Then David sent messengers to get her.” “…and he slept with her.” In the course of 4 verses in 2 Samuel, David makes some decisions of monumental proportion, very bad ones.

I try to convince myself that David’s downward spiral could never be mine, but that’s just naïve. If I had a dollar for every person who used the phrase, “I would never…..” and eventually did the very thing that they claimed they would never do, I would be a rich man. As much as I would hope to never be in a situation like David, I look at the different decisions that he made along the way. Can you really claim that it was just one decision? I don’t think so, it looks like a series of bad decisions.

But the thing that gets me every time is that after the last bad decision, David still had a means to make things right. After he saw her, he could have gone back inside. After he found out who she was, he could have left it there. After he had her brought to him, he could have sent her home. After he slept with her, he could have confessed. But it’s never that easy. We make one mistake and it seems like a chain reaction or dominoes, everything topples over one piece at a time.

What a contrast between the story of David and the story of Joseph in Genesis 39. Joseph was being seduced by Potiphar’s wife and he ran………far and fast. He didn’t hang around to see how this would play out. He didn’t say to himself, “I can handle this.” He just got himself out of the situation. He escaped. Of course, if you know the rest of the story for Joseph, it didn’t immediately end well for him, but it did eventually. It did for David too, but the life lessons that he learned may have been less painful learned through other circumstances.

As I journey through life, I realize that there are circumstances that I come upon from which I need to run far and fast. I can’t stick around to see how they play out. We can’t pray harder that we can sustain a tempting situation WHILE we’re in the middle of that tempting situation, we’ve just got to run. While we can’t deny the power of God and the Holy Spirit, we also can’t walk into the lion’s den and expect that we won’t get bitten. Sure, it happened to Daniel, but he didn’t have much of a choice. Don’t temp God, and don’t let yourself be tempted.

What a lesson to learn. I am grateful for David’s mistakes for two reasons. First of all, I can learn from them. Second of all, I realize that even in the midst of his screw ups, God still loved him and forgave him. Sure, there were consequences for his actions, but God did not abandon him, and that’s really good news.

Destined To Be

As the one year anniversary of my father’s death approaches, I can feel myself getting more introspective than usual. It feels like much longer than just a year as so much has happened over the past 12 months. This month is a busy month, for which I am grateful, with the swan song of the month being my birthday on the last day.

A friend and I were discussing the concept that movie watching can be a spiritual discipline the other day. I was glad to find someone else who appreciated the spiritual searching that could be evoked through watching films. It was a reminder to me that I need to get back into my 2014 Watch List as well as my 2014 Reading Plan. After choosing a few movies to share with this friend, I found one to watch myself.

It was a typical story of a son who is struggling to find his place having been abandoned by his father and having lost his mother. Just typing that sentence flips a switch and reminder to me that his story was similar, in a sense, to my own. But this son, Nick, is struggling as a writer, trying to figure out how to exist. His life is marred by broken relationships, failed job attempts, and a general misdirection. Then, he meets his father.

His father contacts him to help him after he has been evicted from his apartment. The encounter is brief and they don’t see each other again until Nick is working at a homeless shelter that his father checks into. The awkwardness is palpable as Nick interacts with his coworkers who have already begun to form ideas both about Nick’s father and about Nick. You can see the looks, you can almost hear the whispers as they see this man whose life has been marked by failed efforts and relationships, and Nick comes to the place that so many of us come to in our lives, the place of questioning whether or not we are destined to become our parents, for good or for bad.

It’s a question that I have pondered more than once in the last few years. There are times that the desire to buck up against the life that my father lived seems to drive me, evoking a defiance in me as I claim that I will not make the same mistakes. Which such passion and defiance, it becomes humbling when those very same mistakes seem to be duplicated in my own life, and I realize that it’s not about trying to undo what’s been done or even making sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that my father made. It really comes down to identity. Who am I?

While there is a driving force that causes me to run far and fast from the evidence of my father that I see in me, to be consumed and focused on that makes it seem as if there was nothing at all good in him, it’s a focus on the negative, on the areas of improvement that he had in his life, and that’s just not fair. Somewhere along the way, I was enlightened to his story, growing up in Brooklyn, the younger of two boys, an alcoholic father, a working mother, and eventually, living in a single parent household in the formative teen years. When I began to understand what he had gone through, I realized that he was doing the best that he knew how considering the circumstances that had shaped him.

Every child who has experienced the difficulty of their parents will always ask the question of whether or not they are destined to become like their parents. Every hint of anything of their parents in them can cause them great dismay and disappointment. I’ve tried not to let that drive me though. Like I said, my father made mistakes, but they didn’t define him, nor should they have had. There were areas of improvement that I have taken notice of and am doing my best to work out in my own life, but I do them in accordance with who I am, not who I don’t want to be.

At the end of the movie that I was watching, the need to not become his father drives Nick towards “success.” He writes the book that his father always claimed that he had written. He pushes away from the addiction that entangled his father. He chooses to live in truth rather than by spinning a web of lies. But he does take something positive from his father, he chooses to use his life to help others and becomes a teacher in an urban setting, helping kids to learn in a difficult setting.

Who are we becoming? Is it really about destiny? In some way, I think it is, but I feel like it’s way more about who God has made me to be than about who I’m trying to avoid being. I am grateful for my father and my mother, both of whom were full of strengths and weaknesses. When I see glimpses of them in me, I hope that they are good glimpses, I hope that they don’t cause me to run and hide, I hope that they might be characteristics that my children will look at and see as beneficial to carry on.

If I see glimpses of things that I want to avoid, I don’t panic, but I ask myself what I am doing to change and why. Some of the greatest growth that I have seen in myself has been when those faults and flaws have been pointed out to me and I’ve made steps to change, not by myself, but with the help of others.

I am grateful that I had two parents who I was proud to say were mine. I am grateful for the way that they raised me, successes and failures alike. I am grateful for those glimpses that I see of them in me and even in my children, for those are the memories of who they were and are, the legacy of who they’ve made me to be.

Washing Away the Past

At any given time, I have a fairly hefty list of movies to watch or books to read.  It’s hard to get around to all of them because I can get easily distracted, kind of like Doug, the dog, in the movie “Up,” something as simple as a squirrel can throw me off of my game and get me reading or watching something else.  I review books for my blog every month which genuinely take precedent over some other stuff and then I get intrigued by something else and end up throwing another one on the pile.  It can be an endless cycle and the pile just never seems to get as small as I would like for it to get.

Not too long ago, I finally watched the movie, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”  I had heard enough about it that I was intrigued to want to watch it but not so much about it that I was afraid it wouldn’t meet my expectations.  So I gave it a whirl, not fully knowing what to expect.

I wasn’t disappointed, but it was certainly a heavy movie, something I’ve been trying to avoid in my current stage of life.  Life has been heavy enough without having to subject myself to fictional bouts of drama, so I’ve tried to avoid things that are too heavy.  “Wallflower” presented enough humor to counteract the heaviness that it was palatable for me at the time.

The thing that stood out to me the most about the movie was a quote that was said by one of the characters.  He said, “You accept the love that you think you deserve.”  From the moment that the character uttered it until the end of the film, I couldn’t get it out of my head.  I had to play back the quote a few times in order to really let it sink in.  As I let it marinate in my mind, it seemed that its poignancy seemed to deepen and it became even more meaningful to me.

When I was younger, I always marveled at these girls that I knew who ended up dating these complete jerks.  I never quite understood it.  Of course, being ever the friend and never the boyfriend to any of them, I saw it all too often.  Throughout high school I saw it and it didn’t get any better in college.  In fact, one could argue that it got worse.  Years later, this quote kind of brought it all back around for me and it seemed like the clouds parted, the skies opened up, and I could finally see something shedding light on this confusing situation.

We accept the love that we think we deserve, and it becomes more evident in certain relationships.  I guess that I always called it “settling.”  Why would someone settle for second best?  Why would someone who had so much to offer settle for someone who took what they offered and gave nothing in return?  How could someone think that they could deserve to be treated poorly?

As someone who has made their fair share of mistakes in the past, I can attest to the need for grace.  I am grateful that my past doesn’t define me.  While the things that I have done in the past have shaped me, they don’t have to define me, but it’s taken me a good chunk of time to come to that conclusion and be okay with that.  Frankly, understanding the grace that God shows me has been the number one facilitator of that realization.  I’m not sure where I would be had I not come to that conclusion, probably somewhere back in the past thinking that I deserved to eternally reap the consequences of my actions.

We accept the love that we think we deserve.  If we can’t get past our mistakes and move on to a place of forgiveness, both from others and from ourselves, we will always think that we deserve less than we really ought.  If we allow mistakes to define us rather than shape us, we could easily find ourselves accepting much less than second best.  Forgiveness is something that we need to accept and it’s not always easy to do that.

Again, this is where the grace of God shows up to me.  It doesn’t make sense, it’s completely contrary to our culture, it moves beyond what is deserved.  If it weren’t, it couldn’t be called, “grace.”  The reality is that we all fall short of receiving and deserving love, but people extend us grace, God extends us grace.  It’s just a question of whether or not we can accept it.  That’s easier said than done, depending on what we’ve done.

We accept the love that we think we deserve.  I deserve what I deserve not because of what I’ve done, but because of what someone else has done for me.  It’s a freeing thought to come to the conclusion that I can’t earn something.  If I realize that I, through grace, receive what someone else deserves, that’s a priceless gift.  I wonder how many people are out there trying to earn grace and failing miserably.  Do we accept the love that we think we deserve?  If so, what do we think we deserve?

Taking Responsibility

I_Didnt_Do_It_The_Bart_Simpson_Story1There are many phrases that seem difficult to roll off of our tongues, some more so than others.  One of those phrases which seems to be building up steam in its ever-increasing difficulty is, “I was wrong.”

Who likes making mistakes?  I don’t.  When I make mistakes, I can easily take it and internalize it, blaming myself and mentally flagellating myself.  When we make mistakes, it’s hard to own them.  We quickly want to shift the blame onto someone else.  We don’t want to lose face because we’re afraid that someone might begin to question our worth and value or even who we are as a person.

Mistakes are part of life, though.  I don’t say that in a defeatist kind of way but in a realistic, “It happens” kind of way.  Think back to when you were a child and you began to do things for the first time.  Did you always get it right the first time around?  Did you make the transition from tricycle to bicycle with training wheels to bicycle without training wheels in one fell swoop, seamlessly, without hesitation?  If you did, you’re probably an exceptional individual.

Mistakes are what make us stronger, smarter, and wiser.  Hopefully, when we don’t get something right, we can go back and tweak the process to have a better and different outcome the next time around.  Hopefully, we’ve got enough humility to acknowledge that we were wrong and we made a mistake.

I wonder how many relationships go south because of this one thing.  I wonder how many marriages fail because spouses are unable to own the responsibility for breakdowns that occur.  I wonder how many people lose their jobs because, somehow, the pecking order of responsibility led to them and no one above them was willing to acknowledge their own mistakes and responsibility.  I wonder how many kids find themselves with severely diminished and tainted relationships with their parents because those parents were unwilling to own up to their own mistakes.

It’s hard to own up to mistakes, but as I’ve grown as a person, as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, and as a child of God, I’ve seen the value in it.  When we find ourselves in positions of leadership, owning that responsibility becomes a model for those around us, if we fail to model it well, we shouldn’t be surprised when that model becomes a reality for all who are watching.  If we do model it well, we will hopefully see the fruit of that humility translate to a culture shift.

Not too long ago, I sat down and had a conversation with someone who expressed some hurts that they felt I had caused.  It was a humbling time for me.  My prayer leading up to the meeting was that God hold my tongue.  In the words of James 1:19-20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  Slow to speak and become angry, quick to listen?  That’s pretty difficult, yet that was my prayer.

God honored the time and I was able to listen and speak very infrequently.  I learned a lot during that meeting, not the least of which is that people are people and when you cut them, intentionally or unintentionally, they bleed.  Owning up to your mistakes, though, goes a long way.  1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  When we genuinely love others and are willing to show them and also acknowledge our responsibility in hurts, God can help healing take place.

This is still a learning process for me.  I don’t get it right all the time.  It’s still hard to acknowledge responsibility, to own up to my mistakes and be humble, but I’m learning a little more every day.

Losing Faith?

obama frustratedIs there anything worse than knowing that you have lost the trust of someone?  But what if that loss of trust is warranted?  What if betrayal was what led to that loss of trust?

Recently, the news has been filled with reports of things falling apart for our current administration.  Websites crash.  Glitches prevail.  Information is leaked.  The truth becomes apparent.  While some of it may be sensationalized, especially given the impending mid-term elections next week, it can certainly not all be discounted as “mudslinging” and efforts to defame the name of the president.  So, how much did the administration really bring upon itself?

That’s the question, isn’t it?  When we fail to live up to our promises or, worse yet, we change our promises or even deny that we made them, we are bound to pay the consequences.  Once upon a time, people would say that their word was their bond, that what they said was truth and you could take their word to the bank with you.  People were people of their word and there was no need to question whether or not they were telling the truth.  But truth has seemed to take a slippery path downward, not remaining constant but rather being circumstantial, pinned to a moment and seemingly unreliable.

Granted, we may project what the future holds and we may be wrong in those projections.  But when that happens, how willing are we to admit our shortcomings?  How willing are we to say that the blame lies with us rather than seeking out the closest scapegoat who can take the fall for us?  When we fail time and time again and refuse to take responsibility for our failures, how willing will people be to believe us?

I’ve heard it said that it takes a lifetime to earn trust and just a moment to lose it.  I’ve seen that played out on more than one stage in my life and it’s gut-wrenching.  Faith is lost in a person and there seems to be an incapacity for understanding that no one trusts them anymore.  Is it really an incapacity or is it simply a denial?

I hate politics.  Our government seems a broken system in which anyone with any ounce of integrity would steer clear of for fear of the corruption that might take place should they hop on board.  Is it asking too much for leaders with integrity, leaders who are willing to admit their mistakes, and leaders who can be honest about what their intentions are?  I don’t think so, but maybe I’m naive.

So much that has happened has caused many to lose faith in an already unsteady and somewhat unreliable system.  What is the hope for a rebirth?  What is the hope for gaining faith and trust again?  I think the first step is transparency.  An admission of mistakes and a humble apology can go a long way towards restoration.  It’s just a question of whether humility has any place in politics, or at least in this administration.

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.

Mini Me

dylan and jon at poolOver the last few years, I’ve adopted a phrase that has been proven true more often than not.  I have said that criticism is autobiographical.  The things that can drive us nuts about someone else may very well be things that are present within us.  Sometimes, if we really stop to take a good, hard look at ourselves, we might realize that we are not as good as we think that we are and that our faults are evident upon closer examination.

Nowhere does this seem to be magnified as much as it is in our children.  We see in them the results of our own investment and childrearing, but we also see in them the faults and foibles that they have picked up on and adopted as their own, oftentimes, unbeknownst to us.  In some ways, parenting could be the greatest blessing and curse to a person, depending on whether or not they want to continue to allow themselves to be refined, transformed, and changed as they grow older.

This seemed to have been on full display for me while I watched all three of my kids for the four day weekend that my wife was away.  The most memorable moment of the weekend happened and I did not even witness it, I only dealt with the fallout from it afterwards.

In order to give the full picture here, I have to confess something about myself: I am a collector.  That might be read by some as a hoarder (including my wife) but it’s not everything that I collect, it’s only certain things.  At some point in my life I went through those phases that young boys go through of collecting baseball cards and comic books.  As I grew older, I began to collect music, movies, and books.  My collection grew and grew and grew and became very space limited by our home.  I’ve gotten a little bit better as time has gone by, especially in this day of digital media.  Kindles and MP3 players have saved my house from being overrun.

I say that to set up what happened while my wife was away.  When we moved to Virginia a few years ago, we connected with a couple from Massachusetts who have become dear friends to our family.  They have really become surrogate grandparents to our children as my parents are now gone and my wife’s parents are still up north.  They have been so generous to us and our children, sometimes spoiling us all just like families often do with one another.

Our friends gave my oldest son an iPod touch that had belonged to their granddaughter.  She had upgraded and so, they gave it to my son.  He was as happy as a pig in mud to have this new contraption.  With the constant advancement of technology, upgrades are happening daily, so this year, there was another device upgrade and our oldest inherited a newer iPod touch.  He was sweet and kind enough to give his other one to his younger brother.

My boys are in the “superhero” stage right now.  Honestly, their depth of knowledge about the difference between DC and Marvel has far superseded my own, especially at their age.  They want to play as many superhero games as possible and they search high and low for apps that will be compatible with their devices.  My wife and I have taken turns to allow them to download certain parent-approved apps.

The Thursday that my wife left for her trip, I was tired and groggy and a bit overwhelmed.  I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep over the course of a few days, and I was more dismissive of my children than any parent ever should be.  So, when my younger son came and asked me to put in the iTunes password, I didn’t think anything of it.  Why should I?  My quick glance at the iPod didn’t set off any red flags for me.  We had instructed him on downloading free apps rather than ones that cost money, so why should I worry?

Boy, was I wrong.  The day trodded along and my oldest got home from school.  I decided to take the kids on a few errands and then get something to eat…..as a family….at a sitdown place.  It was the perfect storm of sorts.  I had probably pushed the kids potential for behavior control and we ended up in Panera Bread, a place we had been many times before.  As I tried to figure out what we could get, my oldest sat right down on one of the lane dividing pillars, straddling it and nearly knocking it into all of the other patrons waiting on line.  My daughter obediently (surprisingly) sat in a seat waiting for whatever food I would bring her.  My youngest son began to do that thing that siblings do so well to each other: pick.  He started getting on every nerve of his sister.

Within minutes, I decided that Panera was not for us that night.  As all of this was taking place, my wife called.  In the midst of our conversation, she asked me whether or not I had input the password for her iTunes account into our younger son’s iPod.  I told her I had and asked why.  Well, turns out that he had purchased a “very expensive” app.  Well, you’re talking about two people who are too cheap to buy $0.99 apps, so how expensive could it really be?  How about expensive to the tune (no pun intended) of $200.

Well, that was enough to send me over the edge.  If an app costs that much, it better do a whole heck of a lot more than just keep me busy for a few minutes.  It had better cook, clean, and mow my lawn.  I thought she was kidding, but she wasn’t.  As soon as I hung up, I unleashed on my boys.  I didn’t lose my cool, but I expressed my frustration to them and let them know how disappointed I was.  As I was dealing with them, I said, “You are no longer to download anymore apps.  You have enough, why don’t you just play with the ones that you have?”

In that moment, the power of those words splashed my face like a bucket of ice water.  I realized the irony of what I had just said.  It sounded vaguely familiar, first as something that my parents had probably told me a thousand times, but also as something that I might need to ingest myself.  I realized in that moment that my kids were just doing what I do…..healthy or unhealthy……right or wrong……and it was a powerful lesson to me.  They are watching, they do what I do, is that a good thing or a bad thing

Children are little representations of us.  When we carry that out, there are some deep theological implications as think about whose children we are and how we represent our Father.  But on the earthly scale, it’s still fairly significant to realize the importance of what we pass on, what we model, and how we live.  I realized that my criticism was certainly autobiographical and that I needed to take a deeper look at myself.  It certainly gave me pause to consider what I was doing.

Thankfully, iTunes refunded my wife and we moved on from there.  My kids are still little collectors, but I hope to learn and grow together with them.  Part of that learning and growth is in being honest, with myself and with them.  I don’t want to say, “do as I say and not what I do.”  That kind of advice never goes over well.  So, I’ll invite them into my journey and hopefully, it can be a teachable moment for all of us.  If nothing else, they’ll learn not to buy $200 apps.