Don’t Blink

160610-zimmerman-bueller-tease_c2of7pI watched the skinny legs of my almost thirteen year old walk through the early morning haze as he made his way to the middle school gym. Morning isn’t his thing. Not really my thing either, but I’ve been forced to live in a world where it needs to be my thing in order to be productive and get more done.

As I watched him walk away from the car, waiting long enough to make sure that the door he pulled on was unlocked and he wasn’t stuck outside, I remembered a picture that Facebook had just showed me the day before. Eight years ago. A little fun run for kids at our church. Just weeks after the birth of my daughter.

There he stood, in that picture, straight up in almost military attention. Not sure where he came up with the pose as our family can’t really be considered a military family. Of course, what happens in that mind is certainly beyond me. I’m pretty sure he’s been smarter than me since he was five, which doesn’t say much for me, but I’m willing to concede.

If you listened closely, you could almost hear Jim Croce crooning away as he sang, “If I could save time in a bottle….” These moments are fleeting. We’ve reached that stage as parents where life is a blur. School. Meetings. Sports. Field trips. There are so many things to try to keep track of that it’s hard just to know how. It’s not like someone hands you a manual that gives you blow-by-blow instructions or troubleshooting options. Not sure exactly what the instructions might be for troubleshooting the passage of time.

I can’t think of a Fall where I wasn’t fairly introspective, this one is no different. The changing of seasons is almost palpable, in the smells, in the colors, it’s in the air. Being such a visual person, it seems that I almost need to live somewhere that I can visibly see the changing of seasons, to serve as a reminder to me that time is passing.

I always marveled at the time vacuum that is experienced in casinos. No windows. No clocks. You step in and lose time, only to find, hours later, that a chunk of your day has been sucked away from you. I think there are other places where this can happen, places where the climate never changes, where it’s sunny all year long (or rainy all year long too, I guess).

As I move into the home stretch when my son will become a teenager, the changing of seasons and time in general remind me not to blink. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” How that quote resounds deeper and louder as time marches on.

Losing your parents has a way of sharing you up, if you are paying attention. It makes you think about what you missed, what you wished you had that you never did. It’s a wake up call to reassess and adjust the way that you parent. That’s pretty much what it did for me.

I try to give my kids opportunities that I never had, not to live vicariously through them but instead to broaden their horizons. I sometimes may accentuate that they’ve got those opportunities more than I really should, but oh well.

I try to get them all one on one as often as I can, sneaking off to do simple and mundane things, for it’s the simple and mundane things that really make up life. As much as we might like to live in the big moments, it’s the small moments in life that seem to have made the biggest impact on me, the ones that I remember all these years later.

I’m doing my best to take advantage of those small moments, accentuating them. That’s not to say that we don’t have any big moments, but I’m lowering my expectations on them, knowing that the impact they have may be long-lasting, but probably not as long-lasting as the small moments.

The old cliche that no one ever got to their deathbed and thought, “I should have worked more” is still true. Time doesn’t slow down, so we had better do our best to lasso it while we can. We can lament its passing or we can do what we can with the time that we have before us. When we live into the simple moments of life, I think we begin to seize them in a way that allows for grace to weave itself through those moments.

Here’s to not blinking and seizing the moments we have before us.

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Parents as growing guides

Growing WithI have sat back and observed the helicopter parents that seem to be so prevalent within our society. I’ve witnessed those parents who seem to be living vicariously through their children’s experiences. I’ve wondered whether the children who are on the courts and fields alongside my own children are there because they legitimately have a love and desire to play a sport or because their parents are banking on their kids securing an athletic scholarship in the no too distant future.

There is no doubt that parenting isn’t for cowards. There is no doubt that there are parents out there who have no concept of their own growth and transformation alongside their children on the journey. But if we embrace a faith in Christ and truly seek to be changed and transformed on this journey, we should also be seeking to be transformed in places where we may somehow think we’ve arrived, that includes parenting.

“As parents and caring adults, we often feel the gap between us and our kids widening as they become teenagers and young adults. Maybe it’s just that they’re growing up. But we fear the gap is also a symptom that we’re growing apart.” So write Kara Powell and Steve Argue as they begin their latest book “Growing With.”

Powell and Argue say that Growing With parenting is an attempt to close this growing gap between parents and their maturing children. Growing With parenting is an attempt to seek transformation not only for our children, but for ourselves as well. As maturity seems to be trending older now, meaning that children are arriving at certain life experiences later than their parents, there is a need for parents to understand this, learn from it, and seek ways to help rather than hinder their children on those journeys.

With this in mind, Powell and Argue suggest three dynamic verbs by which parents can best help their children and themselves as they move through this journey: withing, faithing, and adulting. It is around these three verbs that “Growing With” is written.

There is a constant tendency to want our children to experience things similarly to us, but we have to understand that the world is different. We need to hold on more loosely to our own ideals and dreams and allow our children to develop and mature in a path that may look vastly different from our own. As the authors write, “Growing alongside our withing, faithing, and adulting kids requires holding our future snapshots loosely, because our dreams may not end up being theirs.”

Powell and Argue, through their research, lay out guidelines by which parents can best facilitate their children’s growth through these three phases of withing, faithing, and adulting. They helpfully identify the various stages along the journey by labeling both children and parents. Children move from learners to explorers to focusers while their parents move from teachers to guides to resources. Because everyone is different, there is an overlap in all of these stages as children are transitioning from learners to explorers to focusers. Just as children transition through these stages, so do parents transition and there is overlap through their stages of teachers to guides to resources as well.

Just as there is awkwardness and uncertainty for our children as they move through these stages, so is there awkwardness and uncertainty in our own transition through the stages of parenting. We will not always get it right, we are not perfect, we will fail. Powell and Argue are not ashamed to share their insights which have come from both successfully navigating those transitions as well as unsuccessfully navigating. There are plenty of insights that come from the learnings that have been gained from failures and mistakes. I appreciate the humility and candidness with which the authors come, sharing their own imperfections to encourage the rest of us that even the “experts” don’t always get it right.

The authors use a helpful diagram which lays out a picture of the journey through all three stages of withing, faithing, and adulting as children move from learners to explorers to focusers and as parents complete their own journey as teachers to guides to resources. The inclusion of this diagram throughout the book is a helpful reminder to the reader of what the journey may look like and just how fluid these processes become.

Humility and grace are required for this journey. Growing With parenting cannot be achieved by parents who are seeking only for their kids to avoid certain things or for parents who simply believe that filling their children with Jesus when they’re young will somehow propel them forward and fill them up for the rest of their lives. Growing With parenting seeks for faith to be more than a noun. Faith is also a verb.

There are so many insights within this book, more than a short review allows me to share. Having read Kara’s book “Sticky Faith” years ago and also having been privileged to have been part of Sticky Faith cohort through the Fuller Youth Institute, the principles which are laid out and shared in “Sticky Faith” and also in Kara and Steve’s book “Growing Young” are cumulative, the build on one another. While reading these other books isn’t a requirement to read “Growing With,” it is helpful to be familiar with the concept which the authors lay out.

Part of the Growing With journey for parents is about allowing your children to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. It’s also about giving children the space to make decisions that don’t always align with your own values. The authors share insights into the most effective ways to do this and, through their own research, share the statistics and rates of success. Not surprisingly, some of the methods that may have been labeled as “tried and true” in the past are proven, through research, to not be nearly as effective as they once were thought to be.

Powell and Argue do their best to tackle as broad of a spectrum of experiences as possible in “Growing With.” They share insights about identity issues that emerging adults may be struggling through, particularly in the area of LGBTQ. While this might cause some readers to squirm, I appreciate the authors’ sensitivity and understanding that this is not an issue to be swept under the rug, but rather one to hold and acknowledge, regardless of where you stand on the specifics of this identity and the Bible.

Having not only read their books but having also sat under their teaching, I can honestly say that Kara and Steve offer parents the triple threat of information. They have been educated in this area, they have done extensive research in this area, and they have the experience of being parents themselves of emerging adults who have been on this journey. The insights and wisdom that they offer doesn’t come from some ivory tower of academia but it is seasoned with the scars and lumps that have been gained from knowing firsthand what this all feels like.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that there are times in “Growing With” that some of the statistics and additional information presented can feel burdensome. But admittedly, I am a bottom line person who can too easily become entangled with peripherals, so I appreciate a straightforward presentation of material. I often feel the need to read every sidebar, note, and insight within a book. I don’t imagine that the authors expect that same approach from every reader, but they also know that there will inevitably be those readers who want this additional information so that they can journey down the rabbit hole towards a better understanding of the conclusions reached in this book.

For readers who are longing to see not only the growth and development of their children but also their own growth and development, “Growing With” is a must read book. Nowhere along the way will the reader feel as if they are being lectured or talked down to, instead, they should feel as if they are being the gift of two humble and loving guides who are seeking to help others navigate and negotiate the difficult journey of parenting in the 21st century.

I highly recommend this book, not only to be read once, but to be kept on your shelf for constant reference as you navigate the rough waters of parenting. I also recommend that anyone who is part of a local church, whether in leadership or not, read this book as well. Based on what we read in Scripture, the task of parenting should not be limited to those who are biologically or legally responsible for their children. If we truly care about the growth and transformation of Christ’s church in this world, then we should also be considering how we are investing in her next generation.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Why I Didn’t Rebel – A Book Review

why i didn't rebelA good percentage of Christian parents wonder what will happen once their children grow up and leave the house. Some of them worry that regardless of how well they have done in raising their children, there is the inevitability of rebellion of some kind or another. Is it as inevitable as some parents think? Is this kind of defeatist mentality destined to become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Can rebellion be avoided?

Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach addresses these questions and more in her book, “Why I Didn’t Rebel.” As a young adult who has managed to avoid rebellion, she writes from her own experience and shares not only that experience but the experiences of others, both good and bad. Lindenbach mixes her experiences, the experiences of others, and the insights of some professionals as well as she tries to disprove that rebellion is as inevitable as many have made it out to be.

From the start, Lindenbach defines rebellion as not necessarily rebellion against parents or earthly authority but against God. She says that questioning authority is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s where that questioning leads people that’s important. In her own experience, that questioning led her to come to her own conclusions in a healthy and constructive manner.

Much of what Lindenbach shares in “Why I Didn’t Rebel” is about contrasts. She shares some extreme cases that have resulted in wayward children. When rules are embraced over reasons, children have rebelled. Reasons encourage growth and personal responsibility versus rules simply mandating behavior. This kind of behavior management is about performance rather than heart.

Lindenbach shares that communication is essential as well. Opening lines of communication between parents and children is essential. The intention of that communication needs to be about getting to know your children rather than simply getting information from them. When parents create space for their kids to share openly without fear of repercussion, the likelihood of rebellion was diminished.

Healthy and reasonable expectation setting was also important to Lindenbach and many of those whose experiences she shares. A willingness of parents to admit not only their own faults and imperfections but also the faults and imperfections of their children was important to avoid rebellion. Parents who had unreasonable expectations for their children would often raise children whose own self-awareness was so skewed that rebellion seemed inevitable as well.

It’s hard to refute the logical way that Lindenbach shares her information. Multiple times while reading “Why I Didn’t Rebel” I felt as if she was oversimplifying things. After all, Lindenbach is writing from her own experience of being raised as a child, not from raising children of her own. It’s easy to retrospectively look back and speculate on the reasons and rationale for why a child turned out the way that they did. It’s a completely different thing to speak from the experience of having raised children who didn’t rebel.

It would have added a different perspective to this book had Lindenbach’s own parents offered some insights along the way. Although her mom is an author and blogger herself, she shares no insights in the book. While Lindenbach may have avoided adding her mom’s voice in order to establish herself, I think her mom’s voice may have added validity to the opinions and views that she shares throughout this book.

That’s not to say that “Why I Didn’t Rebel” isn’t worth the read. I thought it was worth the read. Lindenbach’s voice is not the only one shared here, as mentioned before. She offers insights from others who have and who have not rebelled. She also offers the insights from psychologists and others who had a professional perspective.

A lot of what Lindenbach shares in “Why I Didn’t Rebel” aligns with the research done by the Fuller Youth Institute that led to the Sticky Faith movement. That bodes well for “Why I Didn’t Rebel.” In some ways, “Why I Didn’t Rebel” felt like a more organic version of “Sticky Faith.”

For anyone seeking to steer around the rebellion that may seem inevitable for their children, “Why I Didn’t Rebel” is worth the read. Lindenbach does adequate research and presents enough practical experience of her own and her peers to prove that rebellion may be much more avoidable than they have believed.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Play the Man – A Book Review

play the man“I fear we have forgotten how to make men.” That’s one of the lines in the introduction of Mark Batterson’s latest book “Play the Man.” We’ve lost something as a society with our inability to foster an adventurous and daring spirit in little boys and to help them grow up to be men. Just as animals within a zoo seem so much tamer than they would normally be in the wild, Batterson quips that perhaps churches do to people what zoos do to animals.

Batterson is a great storyteller and throughout “Play the Man” he tells stories, his own and the stories of others. He has a way of inspiring passion in his reader as he tells stories in such a compelling way that you’re ready to get up and go storm the gates of hell with a squirt gun when you’re done.

To make a case for raising men, Batterson suggests seven virtues that need to be instilled in young men in order that they might grow up well. These virtues are tough love, childlike wonder, will power, raw passion, true grit, clear vision, and moral courage. Mixing Scripture, personal anecdotes and stories, and real life accounts of people living out these virtues, Batterson makes a case for the importance of these virtues but the need to pass them on as well.

The most important part of this book, for me, was the last part where Batterson shares more personally about the various things that he has done with his own sons to instill these values into them. He never claims perfection, honestly admitting his own faults and laying out the things that he might have done differently had he had the chance. He shares from the experiences that he had with his own sons in their rites of passage that he helped to cater specifically to them.

Batterson has also set up a website where he shares resources. Specifically, he has copies of the discipleship covenants between fathers and sons that he talks about throughout the book. These covenants are set up to help fathers and sons move towards this rite of passage together.

I’ve read most of Batterson’s books. I am always inspired and filled at the conclusion of his books. He communicates in such a way that is simple and helps to make even the most unlikely of candidates believe that they too can embark on the journeys of which he writes.

“Play the Man” is an important book for our culture. In a day and age where kids are growing up faster than they ever have before, this book lays out some important ideas and virtues that require time and investment in order to instill them in the next generation of men. If you are a father, a grandfather, an uncle, or just a mentor to young men, you need to pick up a copy of this book to get some ideas as to how to successfully help young men to grow up to play the man!

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Tech-Wise Family – A Book Review

techwise familyUnless you’re living in a bubble, you’re aware of the vast influence of technology on our society and culture (and if you’re living in a bubble, you’re most likely not reading this review). Like so many other tools, technology can simplify our tasks and make things easier for us, but it can also present challenges and pitfalls that we need to be aware of and for which we need to create boundaries. As Andy Crouch says, “If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own…”

In his book “The Tech-Wise Family,” Andy Crouch lays out his top ten tech-wise commitments for families. He divides them, more practically, into three separate sections: the three key decision of a tech-wise family, daily life, and what matters most. Crouch leads the reader through each section, pointing to data from the Barna Group to bring some levity and reality to just how serious the technological situation is among families in our culture.

Crouch doesn’t call for a straight boycott and abandonment of technology, just a means and method by which it can be held in check. Either we get it under control or it will control us. Technology has a way of creating a culture where we see “easy everywhere.” In other words, we’ve simplified tasks and other things to the point that all that is required is a screen swipe or a button push, tasks that once required much more brainpower than they now require.

Andy Crouch pushes for creating spaces where we live “tech-free,” once a day, once a week, and once a year. How do we create Sabbath from everything, including technology? The challenge that this presents to families is that our kids might try to lead an uprising and a revolution, but Crouch suggests that, like his family, we need to make sure that the phrase “our family is different” becomes a regular part of our vocabulary.

Crouch pushes for the need to build family who are about wisdom and courage, which is not always easy, but so worth it. Are we instilling good values into our kids? Though he doesn’t explicitly say it, he certainly implies that if we aren’t instilling good values in our kids, values will come at them by whatever is at arm length, like their devices. I don’t think that’s an alternative that many of us who are parents would gladly choose.

While the tendency for parents might be to overreact at the potential pitfalls and dangers of technology, Crouch doesn’t advocate for isolating our children, just doing things differently with them. He writes, – “The path to health is not encasing our children in some kind of germ-free sterile environment that they will inevitably try to flee; rather, it is having healthy immune systems that equip us to resist and reject things that do not lead to health.” Using technology wisely isn’t an abandonment of it but a call to be more strategic in just how we use it.

At the end of each chapter, Crouch includes a “Reality Check” section where he talks about his family’s experience with the tech-wise commitment covered within that chapter. He is honest, not candy-coating the struggles that he and his family have had with some of these commitments. The honesty and candor here is a draw, especially for those families who will have to implement guidelines and commitments after having little to no boundaries around technology.

As I look at technology and its development, it seems that it might be easily compared to a high-speed train. Parents can’t simply sit back and hope for the best, there needs to be intentionality in a family’s approach to technology. Andy Crouch offers a clear, thoughtful, and thorough approach. He never claims that it’s easy, but he does say that it’s effective. For any parent wanting to navigate these waters for their family, “The Tech-Wise Family” is a helpful resource. It’s not foolproof but it offers a good place to start.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Grab A Hand

father-son-holding-handsI’ve been volunteering at my kids’ school as often as I can. My mom did such an incredible job of this when my brother and I were kids that she modeled it well. I consider myself fortunate that I have the flexibility to volunteer and I know that the window of opportunity for this is much more limited than most of us really consider.

Last year, my oldest son signed up for running club at the school. It’s an after school program that encourages fitness but also rewards kids for pushing themselves. The gym teacher who runs it gave out little colored running shoe keychains to mark accomplishments that the students had made in their own progress.

My oldest is fairly cerebral and would much rather read a good book or play a video game than throw a ball. He’s found some activities that he likes and we’ve done our best to encourage them. So, when he expressed his interest in this, I jumped at the opportunity to encourage him by not only signing him up, but by volunteering myself to be a part of it.

Over the years, I’ve watched those who have gone before me in their parenting styles and skills. I’ve done my best to glean good practices from them that I have seen and mark those other practices that have not proved to be quite as effective. One of the practices that I’ve seen work so well for parents of multiple children is “dating” their children. This just involves taking them out one on one to do special and fun things together.

The things that I’ve chosen to do with my kids haven’t been grandiose or extravagant. Sometimes it’s just a trip to Home Depot or Goodwill. Involving them in the most common tasks can easily help them to feel important and involved. Activities like this running club have proven to be super beneficial for my relationship with my son as well.

The other day, after the club had finished and we were all walking back from the field to the gym, my son walked alongside me and grasped my hand. At that moment, I felt like the child as I glanced around to see whether or not anyone else was looking. I wasn’t embarrassed to hold my son’s hand, but I was surprised that it didn’t seem like something that was even on his radar. We walked back to the gym, hand in hand, talking about the day and his run. As we walked, I took a mental snapshot, capturing that moment in my brain because I knew that moments like that were fleeting and I wouldn’t have them forever.

I was so thankful for that moment. I was thankful that I had established a relationship with my son where he felt comfortable, even in 4th grade, grabbing his dad’s hand with his peers all around him. I was thankful that the affection that I’ve tried so hard to pour out on him was coming back to me. Not that I poured it out to get it back, but the return was an added benefit. I was thankful that it gave me a glimpse of the future relationship between my son and I, when we move from being father and son to being friends.

It was only the grabbing of a hand, but it meant a lot to me. These are the moments that legacy is made of, how we are remembered and how we remember. They happen when we least expect it and they certainly can’t be contrived or created. I’m hoping for many more, but I won’t try too hard to make them happen, I’ll just seize the opportunities, make myself available, and hope that they continue to come towards me.

Unreasonable Hope – A Book Review

unreasonable-hopeWhen I picked up “Unreasonable Hope,” I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. As Chad Veach tells the story of his journey with his daughter, Georgia, he pulls the reader into his story. He describes the emotions that he and his wife, Julia, experienced in the anticipation of a baby and the dreams that come for every couple expecting their firstborn child. Veach explains about the disease, lissencephaly, that his daughter has and explains the disease and their family’s journey with it.

It was hard to read at times because I could feel the heavy emotions that this young couple was feeling, which speaks to his ability to describe the situation with such vivid detail, enough to invest the reader into his story. Throughout his explanation, Veach never blames God. He is honest about the struggles but also sees beyond those struggles to what God is able to do through them. He shares about what God has taught he and Julia as well as those around them. He’s honest and realistic about their struggles but he also shares the hope that they have found in and through Jesus Christ.

There were moments in reading “Unreasonable Hope” where I felt like I was reading a Joel Osteen book. Veach is honest about the fact that being a Christian does not insure a pain-free or trouble-free existence when he says, “But just because Jesus is with you doesn’t mean you’re free from trials. Storms will happen when you know and love God.” While he acknowledges that, he still makes it seem as if we should be experiencing blessing and gifts from God in this life, that we should somehow anticipate that God has something more for us in this life.

While I don’t disagree that God wants to bless his children, I think the Veaches own experience is a testimony to the fact that sometimes in life, we don’t have answers that are satisfactory for the troubles that come our way, even as those who trust and follow Jesus. There were moments when it seemed that Veach got this, and it’s evident that he does, considering his circumstances, but the specifics of it weren’t as clear as I think that they could be to prevent someone for having unreasonable expectations of what our life in Christ should be like. He writes, “He’s ready to overflow our boat and give us more than we need.” I just wonder how a Christian living in the Third World might respond to reading that sentence as they are scrambling for their latest meal and watching their children go hungry.

Veach has an engaging writing style and, as I said, he draws the reader in with the honesty of his story. While I admire the honesty and transparency with which he writes, I feel like he misses the boat a little when it comes to explaining that sometimes the hope that we have in Christ won’t be fulfilled until the day when we meet Him face to face.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Thomas Nelson Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

How Do I Keep From Crashing?

crashImagine yourself, relaxing, sitting back and just taking in every moment. There is nothing pressing for your time as you move slowly through the day. Your phone isn’t ringing, there is no one vying for your time and attention. You’re a little bit off the beaten path but feeling as if you’re completely disconnected (in the best way possible) from the real world.

Times like this may be few and far between for you and for me, but what happens when we find them and experience them? How do we react in the moment? How do we react when we leave that moment?

During my time away last week, I had a good deal of down time to myself. I was able to read, write, and relax without much distraction. If I was tired, I could rest. If I wanted to watch a movie, I could watch a movie. There was no one hanging on my heels, asking me boatloads of questions, and needing my undivided attention for every minute of every hour.

It was peaceful!

But I knew that there would come a time when I would have to go back to reality, when I would have to face the responsibilities that surround me on a normal and average day. I also knew that facing that reality would most likely hit me like a brick to the side of the head, hard, painful, and leaving me worse for wear.

No matter how hard I could have tried, I don’t think anything would have prepared me well for my reentry into the real world after my time away.

After sitting in my car for six hours (even my lunch was purchased at the drive-thru, a mistake I don’t know that I will duplicate), I arrived home to smiles on everyone’s face. One child was playing in the cul-de-sac, one child was watching TV, and one child was hanging on Mommy’s heels. Everyone exchanged hugs and I sat down to do my best to catch up with my wife.

Now, let me add a parenthetical detour here and say that my wife and I do our best to communicate as often as we can. I have found that face to face communication isn’t very easy with three children. There seems to be a radar on these little ones that goes off as soon as some amount of meaningful conversation begins to take place between the two adults in the house. It doesn’t matter whether kids are happily engaged in activities at the commencement of said conversation, somehow or another, as soon as the first meaningful words begin to emerge from either of our mouths, the interruptions commence!

We pushed through our conversation and into dinner, doing our best to be gracious through all of the interruptions and distractions. I kept my voice calm and even, all the while I was mentally reminding myself of the fact that in five or ten years, these kids will have turned into two-headed monsters who may or may not care what their mom and dad thinks.

Now, I had changed my plans to be back for my daughter’s pre-school program. My wife took her and my oldest to the school to get ready for that, while I took my younger son to baseball practice. He was none too happy about going to practice for some reason or another, and it eventually reared its ugly head.

After being asked to sit in the dugout because of his reaction out of frustration to a drill his team was doing, I grabbed him and we went to the car to try to ensure a decent seat at his sister’s program. My own frustration was more than brimming to the surface. I was ready to spill out any moment and the thing that caused the spill to take place was my son’s coughing to the point of spitting up, right in the back of my car, right when we got into the parking lot of the school for the program.

I called my wife to tell her of the latest development and of our impending lateness. As I drove home, my phone vibrated with a message from her asking how my son was doing. Still not having sufficiently cooled off, my text response was inappropriate. Unfortunately, in the close quarters at the school program, my oldest glanced down at my wife’s phone and saw my inappropriate response……[sigh]

Ugh! How many parenting fails could I possibly achieve in one evening? I thought that I might be setting a record for fails per hour considering that I had only been home for about two and a half hours at this point.

By the time we got back to the school, the program was over and we had missed it. Of course, this just set me off even further. I can’t even imagine what my blood pressure was at this point. I thought to myself, “Weren’t you just really calm for the past few days? How did the wheels come off so quickly?”

I’ve obviously not found the remedy for reentry. In my experience, it seems that the more relaxed and unwound that I get, the greater the challenge for me as I reenter the world of my own daily grind. They almost seem exponentially connected. The further retreated from reality I get, the harder it seems to get back into that reality again.

I’ve still got some time to work through this, to see if I can find a way to ease through the constant reentries that I will face in life. I am hoping that over the course of my sabbatical, I can work on reentry more. We’ll see how it goes.

A Broken Toy Christmas

Christmas with Steve and Jon-2I’ve had so many people make reference to this story that I’ve shared personally, via sermons and my old blog, that I felt the need to dig it out, dust it off, and retell it for the sake of those who have never heard it before. Maybe also for the sake of those who have heard it because sometimes a retelling can make you notice something else.

One year, when my brother and I were probably about 11 and 7, respectively, we had been pretty terrible in the months leading up to Christmas. We were constantly fighting and getting at each other and my parents had constantly warned us that if we didn’t stop, “Santa” would be bringing us nothing but broken, old toys for Christmas. Now, regardless of the fact that we didn’t believe in Santa Claus (nor had we ever), we still used that language for whatever reason. My parents knew that both my brother and I were not believers in the big, fat guy in a red suite.

My parents were jokers, although not many of our friends and some of theirs didn’t believe it. They could joke with the best of them and I think my brother and I thought that they were kidding in this instance too. Our parents would never dream of withholding presents from us at Christmas, right? After all, everyone should get presents, right?

Regardless of their constant threats, Christmas morning approached with little to no improvement in our behavior. I guess we were just stupid enough to believe that our parents would never dream of holding out on us.

Christmas morning finally arrived and we woke up with excitement to see what might be waiting for us under that tree. Imagine the surprise on my brother’s and my face when we arrived at the Christmas tree to find that the only thing underneath it was a pile of broken and old toys with a note that said something to the effect of, “You’ve been naughty, and here’s what you get!”

My brother and I were devastated. Me being the younger of the two of us, I think that I was probably more so. I remember whining and crying and trying to convince my parents that this was unfair and unjust (trying to capitalize on the biblical notion of justice, because that’s what pastor’s kids do to win an argument, invoke the “God” excuse).

I’m not sure how long my parents let this whole thing go on. Like most things that happen when you’re young, it probably went on for far less time than it felt like it had gone on. Finally, after my parents had felt that their point had been sufficiently made, they went to a closet and pulled out all of the “real” presents. Replacing all of the broken toys under the tree were these beautifully wrapped presents. Of course, my brother and I played it up as if we knew our parents would do this all along. We were overjoyed by this gracious act, telling our parents that we knew all along that they would never do this to us, while secretly taking in a deep sigh of relief.

No matter how far I get away from this story, I just can’t forget it. Years go by, both of my parents are gone now, but I still remember the Christmas which has affectionately become known to my brother and I as “The Broken Toy Christmas.”

Parenting experts may call the exercise cruel and unjust, some people may think that it was harsh, and to be frank, I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about it. My leaning is towards the fact that my parents showed my brother and I an incredible amount of grace. What we deserved, based on our actions and behavior, was the broken toys. What they gave us were the presents that showed that despite our imperfections, they loved us. My parents had shown grace in a way that rarely gets seen in this world.

Too many people cower to the whines and complaints of their children. There rarely seem to be consequences when behavior that is less than stellar is displayed. Instead, parents idly threaten their children and then give them what they never deserved with no hesitation.

I didn’t have to go through years of counseling to get over this and yet I still remember the Christmas vividly. In a lot of ways, I can’t help but connect what my parents did to what God did for us when he sent Jesus to the world. The history of God’s people is full of stubborn and obstinate people who thought that regardless of their behavior, a loving God would never turn his back on them and would never mete out justice on them. They were right, but someone still had to pay the price. That someone was Jesus. He is the gift of grace that God gave to us. When we deserved nothing but “broken and old toys” God gave us the best thing that he had to offer: his only son.

As I raise my kids, I hope and pray that I can instill in them the fact that Christmas isn’t about getting what we deserve, it’s about receiving the gift of grace from God. Christmas isn’t about all the commercialism that is preached at us from Black Friday on, it’s the realization that no gift could ever compare to what we receive in and through Christ.

May we come to the realization that the best thing that we can get and give is the news of this gift of grace. May our hearts always be reminded of what we deserve and be thankful of what we receive instead through grace.

Merry Christmas!

Lost

dollhouse-newSometimes, I feel lost. Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve lost something.

Star Wars was big when I was a kid. I collected all the figures and trading cards. I would spend hours upon hours using my imagination to create scenarios with blocks and figures. I didn’t need a screen to show me what to do. I didn’t need someone to show me how to pretend. I just did it!

I also grew up with an older brother. It was just the two of us, no sisters. So, other than my mom and my wife, the idea of relating to a woman in the same house as me is a bit foreign.

I can pick up a football or a baseball or a Frisbee and throw it around with my middle child. He’s content to throw back and forth for hours. I hope that more conversation will develop as we spend time doing that in the future. It’s something that I never really shared with my father, so I’m excited to be able to share it with one of my kids.

If I bring home a new video game or book, I can spend time with my oldest talking about the game or the book. I can hear his perspective and let him try out his strategies on me before he actually tries it out in the game. We can sit on the couch and play through a videogame and be perfectly content. It’s also something that I never really shared with my father, so I’m excited to be able to share it with him.

My daughter’s a different story. When I play with her, I begin to wonder what happened to my imagination, what happened to my childhood. She can sit there content with her dolls for hours upon hours and in five minutes, I’ve checked out and lost my patience. I muster up enough to continue playing, but then I run out of steam. I find some excuse to get up and check on something else.

I was never like this. I never had a hard time using my imagination. I never struggled to relate to my own flesh and blood.

There are plenty of places where we connect. She loves to cuddle. She loves to have me read her stories. She loves to be part of the things that her big brothers are part of. So, the struggle with relating isn’t as great as it feels, but it’s still there.

In the midst of my urgency to be moving and my discomfort in pretending, I realize that there is a stillness and quietness that I need to find. It might not be so much my imagination that’s been lost or my sense of pretending, but my sense to know and understand how to simply sit and be, enjoying the company and presence of this precious gift that sits just feet away from me.

I think I can keep pretending and make up stories, it’s the stillness and stopping that I need to work on the most. I am grateful that kids are resilient, they keep coming back even if we don’t “play” right. So, here’s hoping for second chances at helping with princess dress-up, to imagining a kingdom made of blocks, to seeing mermaids swimming through an imaginary ocean, to dollhouses that are strangely inhabited only by children. If it can be imagined, we can play it, and I’ve got to just let myself go.

These moments are precious and fleeting, they won’t be around forever. The last thing that I want is to wish that I could play dolls again, not only because that’s just creepy for a middle-aged man to wish, but also because the day will come when my daughter won’t want to play with them anymore. Until that day comes, here’s to seizing the moment!