Smile….God Loves You!

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Sometimes perspective arrives when we stop searching for it.

One of those days…….

Too many hours spent at work (if I can just get caught up on some things, I’ll have more time with my family)

Too many rude and impatient people (“I can be nice to anybody for five minutes.  I can bite my tongue.  I’m not offendable)

Too many things to do.  Not enough help to do it.  The demands and requests keep coming.  (I can’t figure out how to get it all done)

Too many places to be at the same time.  (If this day was 30 hours long, I would still be in trouble).

If one more thing goes wrong, I’m gonna lose it.  (and it always does)

“This too shall pass.”

I don’t believe this is actually in scripture, but I repeat it to myself often when overwhelmed with circumstances.  It does give biblical perspective, but sometimes there is no comfort in simple analytical thinking.  The weariness doesn’t go away.

My day finished with a long church meeting that left me arriving home at 10:30.  Little to no time spent with any family member in an entire day.  Great.  Weary……very.

I mindlessly watched TV for a while before bed.  Kal had fallen asleep in the recliner next to me.  When I picked him up to carry him to bed, perspective came in the most gentle and perfect way.

He had been sick and hadn’t gone to school.  Almost 9 years old now, I struggled to pick him up and carry his sleeping body.  His head rested on my shoulder as I started through the house.  I took just a few steps and felt his fevered cheek against mine.

Weariness, unrest, and anxiety gave way to an amazing feeling of peace.

God loves me.  That’s enough.

“God loves you” sounds terribly cliche’ and empty when tossing it out to others, but it’s powerful enough to bring you to your knees in moments like this.

For just an instant, with my son’s head resting on my shoulder, I was reminded how much I love this precious child (and all four of my children).  And as I gave thanks for this boy and the privilege of being called “daddy”, I saw so clearly my Father’s love for me.

And I saw great purpose again.  Not to survive the day and schedules and get things done……but to love.  To be the best dad I can be.

I may not get to spend as much time as I’d like with my kids tomorrow either.  But if I trust, honor, and obey God with my plans and efforts to do so…….He will provide a way.

In comforting my sick son, I found comfort in my Father.

God loves me.  He loves me enough to make me a daddy.  He loves me enough to send His Son to die on the cross for me.

I carried my son to bed with a smile on my face.

 

When God Speaks Through Silence, Little Girls, and Heartache

My gosh! I’m in a funk. But I’ll get through this.

And because I’m a few beats off and “life’s a long song” (Jethro Tull), the lyrics to Suicidal Tendencies’ classic “Institutionalized” keep rattling in my brain:

No it’s ok, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone, I’ll figure it out.  You know I’ll just work by myself.

Because God gave me a brain and I’m supposed to use it, right?  And I pray but I’m not sure what I’m praying for.  What am I supposed to see here?  Nothing in my life has changed but I sure do seem to be stopped in my tracks.

Peace, joy, happiness, contentment….I have all these things.  Depression?  No.

Maybe “oldtimers” would call it “being under conviction” in some way.  Abilility to concentrate leaves.  Usual passions of life escape me.  Willingness to patiently lead and encourage is gone.  Patience leaves altogether.  I begin to believe there is value in quietly making people around me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to be out in front anymore, don’t want to lead.  Just want to hide in the corner.

Backing up a bit, my wife and I have been blessed with four children (ages 8-18).  At some point we realized we may never have a greater opportunity, because of the hectic schedules of our kids, to intersect our lives with others and be a positive influence for Christ.  In recent years, I’ve stepped into plenty of situations in coaching youth sports and church leadership where my own wits and skills were sorely lacking, but God always provided the way through.

Making a choice to allow yourself to be spread thin for God requires faith.  And it makes your faith grow in amazing ways. 

Am I getting lazy?  Lacking faith, giving in to the temptation of taking the easy way out?

So what’s wrong with me?  Week after week, that unsettled feeling.  Is God telling me something by not telling me anything at all?

Always looking for perspective……prayer, meditation, reflection…..trying to piece things together.  Take a step back because you can’t see the forest from the trees.

Questions.  If you consider all the things that fill up your days and take up your time & energy…….if you dumped all the pieces out on the floor in front of you……how many pieces would have enough value that they would be worth picking up and carrying again?

Ecclesiastes 3 New International Version (NIV)

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

Seasons change.  What is good today may not be good tomorrow.  Even though Christians may be working toward the same goal, it doesn’t mean that we are called to travel the same path every day of our life.

stopMy apologies for the Vanilla Ice reference.

Weeks later.  The same funk.  But I listen.  If God is speaking, I don’t hear Him.  I don’t see where He’s steering me.

I made a 4-hour drive one day to watch my daughter’s college soccer game.  In a 0-0 game, she took a shot with under a minute to go that would have won the game.  The goalie made a great stop.  With 20 seconds left in overtime, she took a shot that would have won the game.  It banged off the post.  In the second overtime the opponent took their first true shot on goal.  It went in.  Game over.

Some of her teammates were laying on the field in anguish.  Others were walking slowly off the field hanging their heads low.  I looked up to see Macy walking swiftly off the field with her head held high.  After meeting briefly with her team, she walked across the field toward me and greeted me with a smile and a hug, “Hi daddy, are you hungry?”

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On my long drive home late that night, I knew that in some way, God had spoken.

Parents want to raise exceptional kids.  For me, that means loving and serving God, possessing high character.  I saw great character in my daughter, competing to the best of her ability (exhaustion to the point of vomitting later in the evening) coupled with the perspective of putting a game of soccer in its proper place in life.  No anguish, no blaming teammates or referees.  Head held high.  Knowing what’s important in life.

Character doesn’t happen by accident.

In a text conversation with Macy I commented (in my soured mood) that I was tired of working too much, “raising adults”, and being pulled in so many directions.

Macy has an 8 year-old brother at home.  It occurred to me that I certainly wasn’t pulled in so many directions when Macy was 8. The A-Ha moment.   Character does not happen be accident.

I started writing this weeks ago.  It appears that God added another treasured piece of direction for me today when I attended the funeral of a very special lady.  My stepmother’s dear mother passed away unexpectedly this past week.  She was an amazing lady who touched the lives of so many people.  What occurred to me as I listened to people speaking at her service was how deeply devoted she was to her family.  For someone who loves Jesus as she did, the impact of a lifetime of love and service and devotion to family can never be measured.

I give thanks to God for little girls.  They grow up to be big girls and help their dads figure out where God may be leading them.  And I thank God today for the lady that my kids affectionately called “Mammy”.  They saw the loving character of Christ in her each time they were in her presence, and her loving influence on them lives on.

Know your season.  It’s always the season to love, treasure, and guide your family in a Godly way above all else.

Do not allow yourself to be distracted.  Don’t lose sight of who needs AND depends you loving influence every single day.

Be cautious of trying to play hero to too many people.  You may end up being a hero to none.

Don’t Forget to Play Video Games With the Kids…….Seriously

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This was supposed to be a piece about lessons learned as a dad in the nine years that separated the births of my oldest daughter and my youngest son.

I had points to make about second chances to get things right.  Opportunities I surely wouldn’t miss the second time around.  Overreactions and blowups that wouldn’t repeat themselves.

One thing is certain.  With older siblings aged 18, 16, and 15, I have become very comfortable in my role as  a dad with 8 year-old Kal.  I have relaxed more and simply enjoyed the moments of being his dad.  There is peace that comes from experience as a parent and a maturing trust in God.

But a funny thing happened on my way to writing about lessons learned by a veteran dad.  I learned another big lesson.

Kal accidentally let me know that he probably hasn’t enjoyed me as a dad as much as his brother and sisters have.  Sure,  my role as a father isn’t to just have fun and be the good guy all the time.  The balance between rules and relationships is a delicate one that parents should not neglect maintaining.

But when parents try to maximize quality time and quantity time together with their kids in the middle of busy schedules, moments of simply enjoying one another’s company need to be actively sought.

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What was my offense?

Simply forgetting history and failing to get a clear picture of the present.

Words innocently spoken by my son, “Dad you remember that ONE time you played Wii U with me?  That was really fun”.   Not too bad on the surface, but underneath it smells really bad.

Today’s kids prefer apps on Ipods over console games.  Why is this even important?

Because I spent enormous amounts of what would be classified as “quantity time” with my three older kids when they were ages 5-12 just goofing off playing Nintendo64, Gamecube, and Wii.

TOGETHER, we conquered Zelda, Lego Star Wars (3 editions), Mario, Smash Brothers, and Animal Crossing.  And yes, there were countless hours spent hammering out music TOGETHER on 5 versions of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Looking back, what I thought was quantity time turned out to be time of the highest quality with my kids.  Times when our worlds came together easily.  Those moments aren’t easy to come by as they get older.

Just to set the record straight, I despise having kids stay in a room alone to play video games or playing inside instead of outside.

Be aware of too many precious hours spent “doing your thing” while your kids are doing theirs.  And be aware of taking the easy way out as a parent simply because older siblings “occupy” younger siblings time so well at times.

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We only have so many days and so many hours to influence our children and the direction their lives take.  We must be in their presence, in both mind and body, to have a meaningful impact.

Realize that times change.  Parents spend too much time with a laptop or cellphone in their line of vision.  Kids spend too much time occupying themselves with Ipods and Ipads.

Get your kids in your line of vision.  And look at the same things they’re looking at.

I just need to convince Kal that I actually can play games with him.  Apparently he’d made some efforts for me to join him and was left with the impression that I was an incompetent gamer.  I guess I told him to ask his brother to be his partner or for answers way too many times.

I spent too much time trying to come up with BIG quality time adventures that he wasn’t interested in.

Kal just wanted to play WiiU with his dad.  Those were great times for him.  He told me so.

Bring your worlds together while you can.

Time together IS quality time.

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Gospel Grenades and Change Buckets

 

“Invite people to church.”

“Bible study is needed so you can properly tell people about Jesus, and why they need Him in their lives.”

True.  And simple.

But ineffective because we, as Christians, have not been credible messengers.

And you can’t tell someone what they need if you can’t model for them something that they might want.

I’ve wasted years and opportunities with faulty “tell people about Jesus and invite them to church” mentality.

Failure is measured when our immediate actions don’t result in church attendance or baptism.

We want to lob gospel grenades and hope for immediate results.  If we don’t think we can hit a homerun, we just let somebody else bat for us…….preachers, people with better knowledge of the bible……….

I can’t do something big, so I’ll do nothing at all.

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It’s a terrible mistake to spend our days believing that Jesus can only be dispensed to an unbelieving world in $1,000 bills.

I’ve never had a $1,000 bill and never spent one.  And I’ve never taken action or said the magic words that immediately led someone to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.

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But I have a change bucket that I empty my pockets into every day.  And it accumulates at least $300……twice a year…….year after year.

Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us……….. if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

I don’t even know anybody that’s ever had a $1,000 bill.  But we’ve all gone through mountains of pocket change over the years.

For the talents that God has given the vast majority of Christians, there is greater cumulative value in the little things.

Simple acts can lead to amazing things when we trust God with things beyond our sight or reach.

We don’t have to be able to see the last step, we just have to be willing to take the next one…….and we can’t be frozen in out tracks simply because we think we have to jump the whole staircase in a single bound.

Check the direction of your influence.  It’s reaching somebody all the time.  Good…..or bad?

Dispensing the love and hope of Jesus to the world around us, one penny and one nickel at a time.  All day every day.

Little things matter.  Every day, action and every encounter has value…..forever.

In a world where Christians tend to be tagged as judgmental hypocrites, live with a determination to be a credible messenger of the story of the hope that Jesus brings.

Invite the character of Christ into all of life’s situations. Make someone take notice, “what do you have that makes you different”.

Before I can offer something to others that indicates something is missing in their life, I must first display something mighty powerful that is present in my life.

Don’t just talk about Jesus.  Live like Him.

Living like Jesus….even one penny at a time….all day every day……is a life worth living, a hope and love worth sharing, and a life that make someone seek something that they didn’t even know they were missing.

And if I did have a $1000 bill, I’d probably change it for smaller bills anyway.  It’s useless to me since pop machines and concession stands won’t take ’em.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty Is A 4-letter Word

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Raising Strong Daughters Part 3.

….and this one applies to sons also.

My dream is to have kids who don’t comb/brush their hair, aren’t bothered by standing in public with their fly open, and only look in the mirror to practice making goofy faces.

I’d rather hear my kids drop an F-bomb than to ask, “Dad, what will people think?”.

No, I don’t subscribe to the “just be yourself” mentality that becomes a convenient excuse for disobedience to God.

Psalm 139:13-14  (NIV)

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

Wonderfully made by our Heavenly Father.

Teach it to our children early and often.  The world teaches something else entirely.

Living to impress people.  Modern culture sells it at an alarming rate.  Parents buy it.  Our kids grow up not knowing any better.

We say stupid things, “You’re not going out of the house looking like that are you?”  (variations of this prase are allowed when it comes to modest dress).

We spend too much time standing in front of the mirror.  Spend too much time taking care of our appearance every single time we go out in public.

We watch garbage on TV that sends a terribly wrong message about what is important in life.

We buy stupid things to make us look better, skinnier, younger, wealthier.

We obsess over “PRETTY”.

Yeah I’m a man and I’m getting into dangerous territory.   It’s important for girls to feel pretty, blah blah blah.

So don’t get me wrong.  I’m not talking about insecurities of teen girls.  I’m talking about small steps along the way before they are teens.

The habits, words, and actions of parents that shape their confidence, strength, and identity.

 I’m talking about overkill….an overuse of the word “pretty” that ties in neatly with an unhealthy approval-seeking quest.

A quest where security in one’s identity only comes to those who possess physical beauty, those who win the approval of others.

The selfie generation.

If you’re concerned as a parent with your daughter’s ability to attract boys…..then I don’t really know what to tell you.

If your hope and prayer is for daughters with a strength that comes from their faith , then I push for a simple awareness.

To know they are wonderfully made does not happen by accident.  And it must go much deeper than constant chatter about appearance.

We should all have more concern with Who made us than with who likes us.

Easier said than done.  But peace and inner strength come when we live to please God instead of living to please and impress others.

It’s not something we can just pass on to our kids when they’re old enough to leave home.

Tell them and show them that they’re awesome every day, “I’m so glad God made me your daddy, and I’m so glad He made you my daugher.”

Give thanks to God (in their presence) that He made them just the way they are.

Don’t start babbling with the “boyfriend” talk when they’re six years old.

Walk around in public occasionally with your fly open to properly demonstrate that “we shouldn’t worry what others think”.

Model for them a life that says at all times, “God matters”.

Avoid innocent phrases degrading yourself that aren’t so innocent when a child hears them in repitition; “I look awful”  “I feel fat”  “I can’t go out of the house looking like this”.

Tell them they’re beautiful inside and out.

Encourage a life of Bible-reading in your daughter.  Let them see you reading……that God’s word is an important part of your life.

The truth is that we all need to feel pretty, wanted, and accepted in some way.

But before our daughters become old enough to worry about it, let”s make sure they fully understand that they are “WONDERFULLY MADE”.

THE DAUGHTER OF A KING

 

 

 

The Danger of Leading From the Rear

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I’ve always been a “lead from the rear” kind of guy.

A firm believer in letting my kids, basketball players, or co-workers learn from their own missed steps off the beaten path.

I don’t have to choose every step for them.  I just have to watch from the rear and make sure they’re safe.

But there’s a big difference in the ones that are simply safe and the ones that are scared or hurting…..those needing guidance or encouragement.  I suppose I’ve missed a lot of those opportunities by watching over the whole flock without looking closely at individual faces.

Some lessons take a while to sink in.  I learned this one while helping with my church’s VBS this past summer.

I had the easiest volunteer job available (crew leader 4th & 5th graders).  This is the age where kids are on the borderline of being too old and cool to attend VBS.  My job was simply to follow them around to various craft, snack, story, and worship stations/activities and keep them safe (or just inside the church building)……a shepherd of sorts.

On the first night, my group went from opening worship time into the craft room with me “leading from the rear”, just counting heads.  I looked casually around the room during crafts to make sure nobody needed help.  It seemed that kids ranging from 2nd to 5th grade were placed together for this activity.  My own 2nd grade son was in the room, so I mostly walked around the room fist-bumping kids I knew, small-talking with other adults, and giving little notice to the kids I didn’t know.

Something was different on the 2nd night as we entered the craft room and the kids began working on a slightly more challenging project, a bead bracelet.

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Before I ever started surveying the room for kids that might be having difficulty with their project, the voice of a single child caught my attention.

My eyes followed the sound of a voice that seemed a bit deep for a 4th or 5th grader.  I spotted a boy whose body matched his voice.  He was just a bit larger in size than the other kids in his age group and he was seated at a table next to my 2nd grade son Kal.

His loud conversations with Kal told me that he was probably more comfortable talking to Kal than with the kids his age.

I continued to watch and listen as they began their bracelet project.  There was something heartwarming and special in the way this boy interacted with my much younger son…..a kindness and innocence that usually disappears by the time boys reach the age of entering middle school.

I could see that he was having trouble threading his beads onto the string bracelet.

So I just pulled up a chair.

The boy’s name was Gabe.  I helped him string his beads and finish his bracelet.  And we talked.  Gabe was starting middle school in a few weeks.  He seemed very nervous about it.  I assured him that I had three kids who had recently finished at the school he was starting and that they all loved it there.  I told him I had coached basketball there and I knew the teachers there were great.  But I doubted that I eased his fears.

As my group of kids (14 of them) filed up the church stairs for our closing worship session in the auditorium, I trailed behind them once again.  The first kids through the door sparked and enthusiastic question (a joke of a question because of my reserved personality with kids) from my pastor’s wife,

“Who thinks they have the greatest crew leader here tonight?”

Silence……except for Gabe.  He shyly raised his hand.  And quietly said, “I do.”

I understand now that my actions that night had little impact on his life.

But this special young man found a place in my heart and perhaps served a great purpose in my life.

To follow Jesus means that we are willing to make changes to our sinful, selfish self in order to be more like our Savior.

Jesus was a shepherd.  But I’m pretty certain now, because of Gabe, that Jesus was most definitely a “pull up a chair” kind of guy.

Jesus found the person in the crowd that needed Him most, and met them where they were.

If you’re only looking at the crowd as a whole, you’ll never notice that person that needs you most.  The one that may truly need your love, kindness, encouragement, gratitude, or prayers.

Leading from the rear has its value.  But just being safe isn’t enough.

You can’t tell who needs you if you aren’t willing to look at the faces you’re leading.

I pray that middle school is kind to Gabe.  I’m certain that there are people there who will “pull up a chair” if he needs it.

And I’m certain that I’m thankful for lessons learned in my short time with this special young man.

 

 

Getting It Right (by accident?)

 

“He never dismisses a parent’s prayer.  Keep giving your child to God, and in the right time and the right way, God will give your child back to you.”    Max Lucado – Fearless

Parents pray for the health and safety of their kids.

Sometimes we just ask for God’s help in raising them.

“God, please guide us.  Help us to be the best mom and dad we can be.”

We may not know exactly what we’re asking for.

And more often than not, we are clueless about what an answered prayer even looks like.

Sometimes we stumble along in the dark with poor decisions and reactions, without purpose or direction.

We forget what we even prayed for.

Every now and then, we remember that our children belong to God.

Just a small dose of surrender and a nudging from the Holy Spirit and cool things happen.

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Big sister is into her 3rd week away at college.  Little 8 year-old brother decides to start sleeping in her bed (DirecTV in her room).

As bedtime nears, he starts babbling to his mother and me, ” you know how I wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning and come to your bed sometimes……I have a great idea.  The next time I do that, I’m just gonna get up and make me some coffee (Macy left a coffe-maker in her room).

What runs through my mind is this, “blah blah blah.  That’s about the goofiest thing I’ve heard all day.  Sure son, whatever.”

At bedtime, I have dozed off in my recliner.  I’m awakened by Kal asking me to help him carry his coffee fixings upstairs to Macy’s room.

My initial irritation fades a bit when I walk into the kitchen and see his efforts that followed his big idea.  Coffee scooped into a glass jar.  Bottle of water.

“Dad, can you carry the sugar up for me?” (the whole cannister)

A nudging…….and I’m in.  “Hey Kal, let’s put the sugar in a smaller container.”  More chattering comes about creamer and milk, and I patiently explain that they need to stay in the fridge.

The first trip up leads to another trip back downstairs to search the kitchen for a missing part to the coffee maker.

Once he finally gets everything arranged (for the coffee that most likely will never be brewed), the big moment comes.

“Thanks dad, you’re the best.”

I didn’t do anything.  I just went along.

But I realized almost immediately that this is what an answered prayer looks like sometimes.

When that first reaction goes away and the right path is taken.

And the gentle reminders come pouring in at a time when they are needed most:

1) Always listen to the words of your children like it’s the most important conversation you’ve ever had in your life.  If you don’t listen to them when they’re small, they won’t bother talking to you when they get older.

2) Encourage them to dream and create.  Their ideas don’t have to be great.  But if they choose to share them with you with a degree of excitement……….share the excitement.

3) When they invite you into their world, don’t miss the invitation.  If we are to influence our children in great ways, we have to find ways to get into their world……..their mind isn’t stirred or concerned with our grown-up world or the stresses of life that distract us.  Don’t allow your worlds to be separate.  Sometimes this may require parents to learn to carry on an informed conversation about Mario, Pokemon, WWE, or Zelda (no matter how goofy it may seem to us).

4) Don’t forget to pray.  Don’t forget what you prayed for.

Be ready to be nudged.

Learn from the things that don’t go right.

Learn from the things that do go well, even if it seems by accident.

Give thanks for answered prayers, even if it takes a while to recognize them.