Monday, October 20, 2014

Embrace The Joy At Home

Jackie and I just spent a week watching our three Lubbock grandboys, ages 1, 3 and 5. Ok, so we're exhausted, but it was great fun. The boys were boys but behaved wonderfully the whole time. Their parents have obviously done a lot right. Sure we had our moments and wondered how mom and dad actually keep up with the constant questions, activity and neediness that normal kids that age expend.

Sometimes we'd get them all into bed and quiet at night and we would just collapse.

And I was reminded of when we were those parents and had the daily, non-stop responsibility for our two. How did we do it?  I'm not sure other than by the grace of God.

But I wonder how many parents under the pressures of parenting their little ones, saying "no" fifty times a day and being worn out much of the time also miss the little joys along the way. Perhaps we need to laugh and giggle a little more in the middle of our kids immaturity, challenges and being prone to look at themselves first.

One day, Silas, the three-year-old, was jumping on the couch. So I said, "Silas, don't jump on the couch please."  To which he responded, "Don't watch me do it." It took everything I had in me at the time to not laugh and unintentionally condone his actions, but inside I was cracking up. Somehow there was joy in seeing that little mind at work.

Joy came when we picked out and then carved our not so exotic pumpkins. And more joy arrived the next morning when we got up in the dark and had lit the pumpkins for them in the dark. Joy came when they rode the swing or their scooters with all their might grinning from ear to ear.

Joy showed up when they got their favorite donut with sprinkles or made a simple tower out of blocks. Joy was there when the oldest began to read words he never thought he could read.

All those little things could have been missed if we'd only focused on the BIG stuff or been too busy being productive. 

And remember joy doesn't only come in the good moments.  Joy isn't just another version of being happy. Joy can also be the feeling we have when we see something great, some work of God, some specialness in the difficult times when life isn't going as we'd hoped. We can bring some joy to our kids when we love them anyway when they've messed up.

We can exude joy when we teach our kids important lessons through their mistakes. We can have joy when we see those little bodies and minds attach themselves to new little learning moments or special times that don't require a lot of fanfare, money or fame.

Find some joy at your house even if times are tough. It's there if we'll look for it.








Sunday, September 28, 2014

So What's A Parent To Do With Halloween?

My kids are long past the Halloween stage. Okay, they're actually grown, married adults with their own kids now. And they face the same challenges we did when we every year faced this bizarre, often misguided holiday. Sure, it's fun to dress up and get candy, but kids today have even more ugly, almost demonic outfits to choose from not to mention the other kids whose parents often give no thought to putting their children in grotesque and often hell-ish like costumes.

So how do you handle it as a parent? Some choose to skip it, others find alternative activities while many think it's just pretend so what's the big deal?

First, to me skipping Halloween without any discussion or substitute seems unwise and probably confusing to the kids. All their friends are involved for the most part though that alone is not a reason to let them do anything we oppose. However, to just not participate in any way doesn't seem to be the answer either.

Alternatives are good, many churches and clubs offer them, but that doesn't answer the question for older ones which is, "So what's the problem with Halloween in the first place?" But just jumping in to Halloween activities without some cautions is a bit dangerous, too. The movies, videos, comic books and TV programs out these days have taken the blood and gore to new extremes and wise parents ought to notice.

I want to suggest a couple of things. One, whatever you do consider celebrating All-Saints Day the day before. Do some research online and learn the bigger history and biblical, spiritual implications that the healthy side of this holiday implies.There are wonderful models and stories that our kids shouldn't miss out on.

Two, participate in some way with appropriate attire and only at homes of people you know well. Many families put out fun decorations without all the gore and guts stuff that will keep your day fun and wholesome, not gruesome. Some parents actually work together and share the load with each other and throughout a neighborhood.

Three, if you can find an alternative activity that substitutes other kinds of characters and images as well. But frankly, some of the activities out there simply aren't very good and are actually pretty hokey.  Use your judgment and maybe talk to others before just jumping in. No need to go to something that is just a waste of time.

Four, and maybe most important, talk to your kids. Of course, be age appropriate. Don't demean any other family or child who just loves Halloween or imply that your family is better. They don't need a Hell, fire and brimstone sermon. But you can talk about having fun, about concerns with evil, demonic images (even though they are hopefully fake) and that you as a family want to focus on only the good and enjoyable parts of it all.

You'll probably have to say no to some of the outfits and images and you should. Some of the video game characters represent nothing good or healthy. Your older kids should be able to understand that. Show them that in your faith and God there are better alternatives and that our minds need to be on what is good, right and positive.

Halloween can be just a fun time of the year without having to keep our kids from any of the good times they could still have. You will have to be the ultimate guide through it all. And maybe if work it right there will be a few pieces of candy left just for you!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do You Require Church When Family Members Balk?

There's a now oft-told story about a woman who opens the door of the bedroom and says, "John, you need to get up and get ready for church." To which John replies, "I don't want to go to church."

"You have to go," the woman replies. "But I tell you I don't want to. No one likes me, church is boring and I'd rather be at home. Give me three reasons why I should go."

"Well," the woman says, "One, going will make you a better person, two, there are people there expecting you and three, you're the pastor of the church."

Perhaps you're not dealing with the pastor not wanting to go to church but it's one of your kids. What do you do? Do you force them? Do you make them go and hate it? What if they're almost eighteen and you're trying to help them learn to make their own decisions?

First of all there are things that kids still living in your home under the age of eighteen really don't have the right to decide and in my opinion one of those is church attendance. Ideally, wise parents make church an important part of their home and family experience starting when the kids are little. Often that will help those children to want and expect to go as long as they are at home.

And yet we know that kids will often still balk at church attendance for a variety of reasons and I encourage parents to address the reasons before they consider letting a student stay home.

Maybe the options provided aren't very good ones - poor student ministry leadership or no programs per se. Perhaps there has been a relationship struggle with someone or a certain group that needs addressing. If that's the case then work on changing those things.

Go help with the student ministry. Help your son or daughter navigate the relational issues.  Meet with the teacher or student leaders to get more insight on what might be done to improve things. Start by being proactive.

Second, consider that there may be a spiritual issue. Perhaps your child doesn't have a relationship with God. Maybe they're unsure how to grow spiritually or has received some flack from friends about Christianity. Spend some time with them talking about spiritual things and listening to their questions. Maybe you could read something together that will help you both learn.

Third, learn to worship together. Tell your kids that you're going to discuss the message later and would like their thoughts. Model for them your active and passionate involvement in the music, prayer and teaching. Let them see your faith in action!

Finally, be patient.  Most kids have times of wondering, rebelling and needing to make your faith their faith. They will grumble, pout and question at times. Don't let deter you from parenting them and pointing them to Christ. Someday they might still reject their faith but Proverbs 22:6 reminds us that when we train them well the odds go way up.

And letting them stay home doesn't usually help those odds.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Lies We Let Our Kids Believe


If there is one thing that parents hate as much as anything when it comes to disciplining our kids is when they lie to us. We can tolerate juvenile mistakes and actions much of the time but when they outright lie, that angers us more most of the time, right?

But have we ever thought about the lies that we consciously or subconsciously help our kids to believe? Yes, there are un-truths that they are exposed to all the time that if we're not careful they will adopt for themselves and even live according to much of their lives. Those lies probably come from outside of our home much of the time but some even originate with us at times.

Let me suggest a few that we would all be wise to respond to, oppose and teach the truth about in our parenting:

The lie that my (our) stuff will make me happy. Most families spend a lot of time, energy and money getting more and keeping up with their neighbors. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the fruits of our labors. But if we keep giving our kids or filling our homes with the newest of everything, the latest, the best and the coolest we send them a message that all of those things matter more than they do.

The lie that I am entitled to most everything I have, get or am awarded. And yet nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve anything other than what we get for working hard, doing our best and receiving because of God's grace.  Our culture is now saturated with an I-deserve-to-get-this mentality that has sapped our government resources and caused parents to often demand of school and community leaders that their kids get special privileges.

The lie that mom and dad should provide and fix everything.  And if we do that where will our kids learn how to fend for themselves, take care of their own needs, save money and problem solve on their own? They won't. They'll bring this needy, whiny, helpless attitude into a marriage or other relationship that will tax both people more than is necessary.

The lie that casual sex and fun, party-filled relationships are free, don't hurt anyone and don't require any responsibility. And yet the social landscape continues to be littered with broken relationships, abuse, divorces and dysfunctional families because no one ever taught our young people how to grow a healthy, vibrant and caring relationship and home.

Finally, the lie that God, Jesus and the spiritual side of life are either mere fantasies and nice stories or at best just one option for people who actually care about such things or need that crutch. I am old enough to have watched for five decades the slow metamorphosis of our culture's views on faith and Christianity. It has certainly been under attack for centuries, even millenia, but never to the degree it is now.

Christians both here and around the world are not merely tolerated anymore. They're being beheaded in other countries and culturally killed everyday here. We must help our kids make our faith their faith. We dare not leave the teaching merely to the church, Christian school or helpful media. Scriptures tells us in Deuteronomy 6 that WE parents must be the foundation of their faith learning.

Ever look at an X-ray and not see the problem that the doctor sees?  I do that all the time. But I finally realized that doctor's can see the defect easily because they've seen the right version so many times. If we teach our kids truth, they'll know the lies more quickly too because we've shown them the right version over and over.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beyond The Ice Bucket Challenge

By now if you haven't heard of the unique and successful fundraising ice bucket challenge to support ALS research you must have been out of the solar system or something. Millions love it and a good less number find credible reasons to say no or give elsewhere. I can't really add to the dialogue on either side so I won't.

However, I do think it would be shortsighted and a clear missing of a powerful opportunity if parents, teachers, coaches and other leaders allow this to merely be their feel-good deed for this month, year or decade.

In other words, what will be happening, if anything, after this challenge runs out of gas?

I think we have a huge chance to use this effort to explain, especially to our children, that serving, giving and sacrificing are where real life is. Maybe it could sink it a bit more deeply that all the fun, accolades, games, accomplishments and victories really don't compare that much to truly helping someone else.

Maybe true caring could become more the norm than the exception.

Because my fear is that too many will simply go back to living a life focused on self, me, my and ours. That many young people will think, "Yes, that was a cool way to raise money and I'm glad a lot of people were helped, but I'm headed back to my sports team, computer and video games. Catch me later."

What if the millions involved decided that they would soon find another way to help others, one that lasted a bit longer and required more involvement, investment and sacrifice?  I think for that to happen adults, especially parents, are going to have to become intentional about making serving more the norm than taking, getting and enjoying just for our own pleasure.

What will that look like?  I don't know. Every person and family are unique. Come up with your own strategy but do something to make and keep caring for others a true family value. Find an organization, family or cause that you will give to regularly.

Build relationships with real people who are invested or involved in this same cause.

If you do, then you'll keep the value of serving and caring warm, even hot, at your house and in our culture and not on ice for another time.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teach Your Kids About Their "Selfie Image" - It Matters.

Ok, so selfies, those pictures people with smart phones take of themselves, are going to be the rage for a while. And of course, some of them are obnoxious while others are actually quite cool. Well, I've not taken one of those cool ones yet but I'm working on it.

But their popularity does beg the question, especially with our children, are they helping our kids gain a healthy view of themselves? I heard one sports commentator talking about child sports stars wisely say, "There is a difference between being self aware and self-absorbed." He is SO right.

If we're not careful we will continue to develop another generation (and they're not the first) of kids who are far more self-absorbed than self-aware. And it won't be just because of selfies.  Much of the problem will lie with us parents who continue to feed their egos without modeling an alternative perspective.

How?

First, we require that they be productive and successful all the time.They are in a sport or learning activity every season, always competing and pushed into winning much of the time. It would be nice if the many camps for kids were merely about expanding their experiences and opportunities but we know better. For most players, parents and coaches they want more activities so their kids will be better athletes or musicians or cheerleaders and so they will win more.

And we do much of it in the name of self-awareness when all we're doing is adding to their being self-absorbed.

Second, we often model the same tendencies ourselves. More and more parents are even quitting their jobs or at least altering their lifestyle and free time in major ways so they can run more marathons, become an American Ninja or get multiple martial arts belts. The not so sports minded ones get more degrees, ascend the ladder at work or decide to climb the world's tallest mountains.

And of course there is nothing wrong with having a big goal or two and going for it. But when it becomes an obsession, and for so many it is just that, we start to become as absorbed with us as our kids do and they notice.

Third, a lessening of our attention on the spiritual and emotional usually accompanies these obsessive tendencies. No, people don't typically reject their faith or become jerks (though a few do) but they just don't place as much important on the less obvious, the things that don't impress others outwardly as much. There usually isn't a radical change but rather a slow move away from the things that matter most to the things that are about us.

Fourth, we don't speak against the cultural affirmations of self-absorption. The selfie prophets are everywhere preaching that we're number one - in movies, on television, in grocery-store magazines and even school. And while we shouldn't be strident or obnoxious about it, we do need to have frank discussions with our kids about why giving ourselves away produces far more fulfillment than always being focused on us.

Yes, everyone needs to know that they are important and matter but the real truths about self-worth can't be found in stuff, accomplishments or accolades. That comes from the God who made us.

So, sure, enjoy a selfie now and then with your kids. Just be careful that you and your family don't get too much selfie confidence. 


Friday, August 8, 2014

Our Kids Need To Know When We Can't Afford It!

We've all been there, right?  One of our kids asks if they can have something reasonable. Maybe a computer. Lots of kids have them. It would help for school. Our other computer is being used all the time anyway. But the thousand dollars isn't exactly in our budget.

Or we're on vacation and they want to do one more special activity. It's not that big of a deal. Sure, we don't have the funds in our vacation dollars for that but how many times will we be back? Our parents couldn't have afforded this so we're not about to let our kids suffer like we did, are we?

Many of us feel embarrassed to tell our kids NO and God forbid, we argue, that they think we can't afford that extra right now. But why do we fear that possibility? Isn't that the way life is? Don't we wish our political leaders would save money rather than spend what they don't have? How will our kids ever learn how to budget and live without some things if we never show them?

We parents need to help our kids understand that life does not owe them everything and that very few people have unlimited funds to spend. In fact, we need to teach them that it's not healthy to live that way even if we do have the money.

Sometimes we need to say no. Of course we don't have to explain our no as a lack of funds if that's not the case. Nor do we need to go there every time when it is.

But there are some helpful phrases that can be free to use when money is tight and we cannot do something because of finances:

You know, we have just so much in our vacation budget and we're still planning to go horseback riding which will use up the rest. So no, we can't add rafting this year.

Or . . . We really do plan on getting you a computer of your own after the holidays but right now that's not in our family budget unless you want to put some of your own money toward it.

Get the idea? You see there are several important benefits of being honest with your kids:


One, they learn that we all only have so much money. That's normal and the reality of life. Very few people have unlimited funds.

Two, they are less likely to feel entitled. Too many kids today think that they can have it all and frankly deserve it all. And sadly, some of their friends live that way so the task for parents is not always easy. We may have to swim upstream on this one but it is important nonetheless.

Three, we will more likely be able to show them the importance and value of serving others. When families spend so much of their time, energy and resources keeping up with others and pretending to have it all they usually don't have much left over for others. When they start to realize life is not all about them and that feeling really alive is when we make life more about others it's a win for everyone.

So be honest with your kids. Don't play the we're poor card and belittle their desires, hopes and dreams. Just be sure to teach them reality even if it takes some humility on your part.