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.

 

 

Just Buy the Paint

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“Raising Strong Daughters”,

That was going to be the name of this post.
But the thoughts and reflections have spun out of control.
What started out as four or five little points grows daily (over ten now).
I guess it’s not a coincidence that my oldest daughter turns 18 and leaves for college tomorrow.
It wouldn’t be correct to say that my life is flashing before my eyes.
But I do find myself drifting back to the day she was born (and all points in between). That wild combination of joy and fear. The realization that I was now responsible for the direction of the life of another person. A new awareness of dependence on God.
Eighteen years later……..I wouldn’t enter her in a dishwasher loading contest.
And she struggles with the concept of turning out lights in unoccupied rooms.
But for all those times I uttered that prayer,
“Lord, help their mother and me raise these children in a way that’s pleasing to You”,

I am beginning to see more clearly now the results of so many answered prayers.

Sure, there were so many times when I failed, as a dad, to listen for God’s answers, commands, and guidance.  Thankfully, as I have written before…”it takes a village”, (and she has a pretty awesome mom)

As she leaves home, I know she loves and trusts God.

She is strong.  I do not doubt her ability to make decisions.

When she was small, I never thought this day could be this way, but I am filled with peace and assurance because of the strength of her heart and character.

The moments continue flash through my mind.  What did we do right as parents?  What should we have done differently?  How did we get here?  And do I possess knowledge and experiences that have value to “younger” parents?

Hopefully I can share some insight that can help other dads (and moms?) with this and subsequent posts on the subject.

Just buy the paint.

I believe it was the summer after Macy’s freshman year of high school.  She told me she wanted to paint a mural in her bedroom.  Not just on a wall, on all four walls.  I doubted her.  My initial reaction, that I kept to myself, was that she would make a mess of the walls and be frustrated and disappointed with the result.

But when our kids believe they can do something, parents need to make it a priority to never tell them that they can’t.

“Daddy, can you just get me four sample-sized cans of paint in these four colors?”

I bought the paint.

The finished mural was “good”.  What was “great” was that she believed she could do it, and her belief led to action.

I bragged on her work and showed it off to visitors in our home.

Her artistic talents have progressed since then, and I am pretty amazed by the work she does now..

But I didn’t really do anything good as a parent.  I simply failed to do something really bad.  What if I had told her she couldn’t do it…..suppressed her creativity, her dream?  And worst of all, what if the message she heard from her dad was, “No, you can’t do that!”

Sometimes dads can be a great influence simply by recognizing mistakes before we make them.

When the opportunity arises, just buy the paint.  Don’t screw it up.  Look for AND create chances for her to create, figure things out on her own, and believe she can do anything.  Be your daughter’s biggest cheerleader.  And don’t ever tell her she can’t.

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How Will I Laugh Tomorrow…..When I Can’t Even Smile Today?

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If we fail to choose a destination, we most likely will end up in a place that we didn’t choose to be.

Punk/thrash band Suicidal Tendencies covers this concept pretty well in their 1988 song “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow…”   the next line is “when I can’t even smile today.

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Day after day, we live moment to moment, with no vision or planning for the future. No intention in our actions, no direction.  Just getting by.  Our mental state and our next action are dictated by the circumstances that we find ourselves digging out of, instead of our planning and intentions.

“The clock keeps ticking, but nothing else seems to change
Problems never solved, just rearranged
And when I think about all the times that I’ve had
Some were good most were bad”

How did I reach this point? 

Maybe a better question would be, “how did I expect to wind up anywhere else?”

When my sons do something brainless and get a horrible result, my reaction is often, “Son!  What did you think was gonna happen?”

They didn’t think far enough ahead (or they didn’t think at all).  Their vision only reached the next 2 seconds and five feet ahead.

Extend this decision making process into adulthood.

Everyone has heard, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

Eventually, our days are filled with do overs and damage control.

We can’t concern ourselves with saving money when we’re stressing over scraping up enough to pay this months bills.

We don’t worry about where our kids will be at 18 when we are constantly at the end or our rope with a couple of toddlers.

We don’t worry about running a 5k race when we’re ready to pass out from climbing a flight of stairs.

We can’t make plans for a better career path, when we’re struggling to hang on to the job we have.

We ruin new relationships because our current relationships are such a mess that we stay in a terrible state of mind.

Try to give a youth basketball player advice on shooting mechanics.  Even if you’ve witnessed 15 straight misses and just want to offer a minor adjustment to their technique, the answer is always the same………”it just doesn’t feel right”.  Translation=I’m comfortable doing it the wrong way and I’m not gonna change.

We are all guilty of this; only willing to make changes and adjustments in cases where we see instant results, improvement, or gratification.

We only concern ourselves with making that “next shot”.  Five years from now, we still can’t shoot.  We lose our love for the game, doubt our value to the team, and basketball becomes a miserable experience.

How will I laugh tomorrow, when I can’t even smile today?

Make a choice to laugh tomorrow.  But making changes today doesn’t always mean that the laughter comes today.  Stay the course.  Change the future.

Make plans.

Make changes, even if you don’t see immediate results.

Obviously, we aren’t guaranteed of tomorrow.  But we don’t have to find ourselves in a mess when it does come …..because we ignore it today and fail to prepare for it.

Don’t settle for being comfortable doing things the wrong way.  Don’t be afraid to tackle difficult changes with an eye on the future.

 

 

 

 

Image Is Everything?

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Kids need their parents’ approval.  They need encouragement.  Security.

But they don’t need to grow up watching their parents live as if the approval of the world is of great importance.

Galatians 1:10

New International Version (NIV)

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

 

So how do we raise kids who are secure enough to walk around in public with their pants unzipped and leave home each day without looking in the mirror?

Maybe the first step is to commit to redefining “image”.  What do others think of me vs. what do others think of my God.  Sure, we can dress in Iron Maiden and Metallica shirts just to avoid the cookie cutter church guy image (but that qualifies as image management that should be avoided).  And when we do something nutty in public, and our kids say, “Dad!  What are people going to think?”, we can fire off that we don’t really care what people think.  We say we don’t care what people think, but do our actions really portray a life that revolves around pleasing God or trying to impress man.

Ultimately, parents need to consistently model for their children, a life of obedience to God.  Not a life where anything less than perfection is considered failure, but a life that displays daily choices and actions that paint a picture of surrender.  Peace comes from God’s love and living to please Him.  Choose daily to love others (not just the easy-to-love folks), serve others, give up our own selfish desires, and seek the character of Christ.

Just a few simple suggestions or at least some things to think about before our kids freak out because they can’t find a boyfriend or girlfriend at age 15 or post a selfie on Instagram that gets 100 likes (or whatever Instagram pics get?)  And why should anybody listen to me?  Because I have two boys (14 & 8) that have never combed their hair.  That pretty much qualifies me as an expert in leading children down the path of “I’m not real worried about what anybody thinks of my appearance”.

1)  Don’t complain about doing a good deed and not receiving praise or recognition.  You might be doing it for the wrong reasons.

2)  Do look for opportunities to praise and encourage others.  Pride fools us into thinking we are deserving of gratitude and recognition.   We can’t demand these things but we must give them to others.

3)  Serve others.  Put others before yourself.

4)  Don’t obsess over appearance (your own or your childrens’).  Avoid phrases like, “you’re not going out of the house like that”.  If their tail is clean and proplerly covered and their teeth are brushed, they are ready to face the world.  God doesn’t judge us by our neatly combed hair or having clothes that match.  Kill the “what will people think” mentality, early and often.

5)  Don’t play the fairness card.  Don’t even talk about it.  “If I do ___ , I deserve ___ . ”  “I’ve done twice as much work as my brother so I DESERVE _____ .”   Another part of the battle with pride.  Kids need to learn to do the right thing without reward.  Life’s not fair so suck it up, and all that great stuff our kids hate to hear.

6)  Love unconditionally, just as God loves us.  Appearance and performance can’t be viewed by children as a measuring stick of our love for them.  We love who they are and not how they look or what they accomplish.

7)  Don’t use overkill with the word “pretty”.  Beauty is on the inside.  Make sure your kids know it.

8)  Always be mindful of making choices based on the management of your image.  Am I trying to impress man?

The only “what will people think” that matters is “what will people think of my Lord because of the way I live my life”?  Can I influence them to follow who I follow?  Am I maintaining an image that influences others in some way that helps them find their identity as a servant of Christ?

You don’t have to like my hair or clothes, but on my worst days, I can’t do anything to turn someone away from my Savior.

 

 

 

Who Moved My Cheese and Spilled the Ketchup

Patience.  Pass it on.
Maybe every parent can appreciate this commercial.  Every human can relate to it.
Powerful message and a not-so-gentle reminder of my own past failures in the area of patience with my kids.
A nice twist here is the fact that the gentleman is not only near the completion of his work, but he is also old enough
that the prospect of doing the whole project over again will not only be time-consuming, but also probably unpleasant
physically on a pair of 70+ year-old knees.
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His mind may be saying , “oh crap!”, but his reaction shows love and kindness.
Each time it airs, I’m flooded with memories of poor reactions on my own part.
Times I failed to exhibit patience with my own children.
Bad moods driven by the stresses of life and problems in my relationships with other people=
Shorter fuse when dealing with cases of kids simply being kids.
Reactions that come too quickly and too harshly.  Guilty.
Discipline without a display of love, teaching, or explanation.  Guilty.
Judgement errors in tone of voice and volume of voice.  Guilty.
The great value of a commercial like this?
Grabbing my attention today.
Causing me to reflect on my failings of yesterday.
Plan for better reactions and outcomes tomorrow.
Kids will be kids.  Bad things will happen, crazy things will happen.
“I will not react this way!”
Plan ahead.  Pray for strength and guidance for those times where life leaves you with your guard down.
“I will react this way!”  With patience, kindness, love, teaching.   (and discipline with purpose instead of anger).
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So when my 7 year-old son Kal opened the magnum-sized ketchup bottle lid side down while standing in front
of the refrigerator (and a good amount of ketchup did find its way to the kitchen floor), my initial thought was to deliver a harshly spoken dose of scorn, “Son!  What did you think was gonna happen?”
But I remembered the “Patience” commercial when I saw that look in his eyes that perfectly combined an “uh-oh” look with more than a
trace of fear of my reaction.
My initial poor response was replaced with a slightly better, “That’s called gravity son.  And it’s nothing we can’t fix.  I’ll help you clean it up.”
Pay attention today.
Make an honest evaluation of the past.
Remember our own imperfections when faced with someone else’s.
Plan for better reactions tomorrow.
Love, teach, influence in godly ways……….patiently.