Watching Me Watching You

center shot

If we expect our children to become adults who work hard when nobody is watching, it’s important to take time when they are children, to notice when they are working hard and doing their best.

I spent some time Friday night watching my nine year-old son Kal participating in the Center Shot archery program at our church.  It’s his second year in the program, but he has no other archery experience.  More potential than skill.  What he knows about archery, he has learned through this program (his dad knows zilch).

I always watch him shoot at the target, but sometimes two kids are shooting at the same target.  I can’t always tell which arrows are his from a distance.  So I usually just watch his body language and facial expressions and see how closely he’s listening to instructions.  Sometimes he looks my way in the back of the church gym during the night, but usually not.

I wasn’t paying particularly close attention at one point because he had just finished shooting all of his arrows into the target.  I might have even been distracted by casual conversation with someone seated next to me.  But I looked up just in time to see Kal, looking back at me proudly.  He was pulling his arrows out of the target, but he was saving the best for last.  His hand waited on the arrow that stuck perfectly in the middle of the target.  Kal wasn’t going to pull it out until he was sure his dad had seen it (“look Dad, I did it”).  As soon as we made eye contact and I gave him a thumbs up, he pulled it out and went about his business.

I didn’t carry out any notable “dad feat”.  I just sat in a folding chair.  But it made me think of kids that hit a bullseye and turn around looking for encouragement or approval…….and nobody’s there, time after time.

maddie regional 2015

Today I watched my daughter Maddie run in her regional track meet.  The 800M run is her top event and her best chance to advance to the state meet for the first time (1st & 2nd place qualify).  She came into the meet as the 5th seed in region (I think?).  As a 16 year-old junior, Maddie and I have shared hundreds and hundreds of athletic contests, many of those with me as her coach at youth and middle school levels.

But in high school, I have tried to be a quiet presence of support, hiding in the shadows.  As a father of a teenage girl, the thought enters your mind that your daughter probably won’t even notice anymore if you’re not at her events (and does she even care if you come?).  When Maddie was on the track today, I had no reason to believe she even knew where I was.

I stood by myself at a spot just outside the track, about 75 yards beyond the finish line.  She looked strong as she passed me on the 2nd and final lap.  She moved up from 5th place to a strong 2nd place finish on the lap, finishing 5 seconds better than her season’s best time.

Silently from a distance I watched.  I wondered if she would look my way.  I delighted in the joy in her face, felt a sense of pride in her laughter and sportsmanship among the other runners.  And then she shocked me.  Maddie looked across the track at me like she knew exactly where I was the whole time……grinning at me from ear to ear giving me a big thumbs up (“I did it Dad!!!”).

I know it sounds cliche’ and cheesy but don’t underestimate the value of just being there.  Kids just want to be noticed when they do something good.  They need encouragement to continue on when they think they’re doing poorly.

As our kids grow older, will our kids choose us as parents to share their triumphs with?  Will they give up on something too soon because we weren’t there to help them believe in themselves?

Some kids feel constant pressure to be the best on the court, track, or field.  Kids that are playing to please somebody else are miserable.

But kids that look over their shoulder for support, encouragement, and direction…….and always find it, are something else entirely.

SECURE!

Whatever your kids are doing, just find a way to be there.  They don’t need you to be there to tell them how they can do it better.  They just need you to celebrate when they do it well (or give a a great effort, of course).

Are My Kids Gonna Recognize and Avoid That Big Pile of Poo?

poop shoe

Right from wrong.  Truth.  All parents want their kids to recognize these things.  How will our children choose what is right?  How will they define what is right?  How will they become critical thinkers?

Ultimately, will they develop good decision-making skills?

It won’t happen by accident.  Blessed with young children in your home?   Embrace opportunities early on to not only teach right from wrong, but also to demonstrate truths, values, and worldviews that will form the foundation of their ability to make good decisions as they mature.

When my kids were small I made a habit of pushing their buttons of critical thinking by giving them small doses of impossibilities.  Tell them you think a puzzle piece goes somewhere it can’t possibly go.  Tell them to try the square peg in the round hole.  Watch their reactions, guide them toward finding the truth for themselves and toward correct solutions to problems without blindly accepting everything they are told.  They don’t have to “question everything” but they do need to assess the value and truth of things as they grow.  Crap or not crap?

The bad news is that the world is full of lies.  But…..the good news is that the world is full of lies.  Teaching moments come in large doses these days.  Failure is a great teacher.  TV and social media flood our lives with perfect examples of “how not to do things”.

Be ready to engage in conversations with your kids about the aftermath of bad decisions and the complete crisis of truth.  If you are a believer in the truths of the Holy Bible, then you must help your kids figure out daily how to apply these truths in a broken world……….to recognize crap when they see it, to realize when things have no value.

Parents who are silent in these areas risk seeing their kids’ system of values shaped instead by a culture that spews this garbage and more:

-Life is supposed to be fair.

-Other people owe me something.  Personal responsibility amounts to talking about what other people should be providing for me.

-There is great value in physical appearance, along with the attention and approval of others.

-If you don’t like the rules, re-shape them to meet your own desires.

-Instant gratification always outweighs patience, obedience, and hard work.  You can start at the top.

-If you fail, it must be somebody else’s fault.  Nothing wrong with blaming and excuse making.

-Lying is ok as long as you compare yourself to “worse acts”.  Results are more important than honesty and integrity.

-If you fail to embrace a decaying system of truth and morality, you must be a hater, bigot, sexist, racist.

-The president controls jobs and the economy and my prospect of work.

-It’s of utmost importance, not only to be right, but to convince others that you are right and they are wrong.

-Bruce Jenner……nah, not even opening that one up.

-It’s ok for Christians to spew venom toward and gossip about their brothers behind their backs……as long as they don’t use 4-letter words while they’re doing it.

There is an abundance of crap out there and it changes every day.  As parents, arm yourself with prayer and truth each day. Eyes and ears open.   Be intentional when your kids are young.  Set out to not only arm them with truth but instill in them a desire to choose it and live it.

Philippians 4

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Recognize the pile of poo.  Steer away from it.  Steer others away.

Dad, Are Man Cards Even Real?


mancard2

 

“Kal, if you don’t stop coming to mom and dad’s bed in the middle of the night, you’re never gonna get your man card.”

Kal is 9.  He is a migrant sleeper.  Sometimes he sleeps on a cot in his brothers room.  Most nights, he asks if he can park himself in the recliner beside mine until he falls asleep, and I give in so we can squeeze in just a few minutes of father/son time.  On these nights he gets carried to the sofa to sleep for the night.

And most nights, he wakes me in the early morning hours by crawling onto the edge of our bed.  So I told him that he had to start sleeping all night on the couch in order to earn his man card.

Didn’t think much about it until one day he proudly exclaimed, “dad, did you notice I slept all night on the couch?”

“Great son!  You’re on your way to getting your man card.”

Then the daily questions started.  What else did he need to do to earn his card?  So I started to have some fun with it and use it for teaching & motivation.

I listed some things he’s already done as requirements:

-Whittle a spear from a stick

-Throw a tight spiral with a football

-Complete a 5k race

kal 5k

-Conquer a ropes course

first flight adventnure park 2014 065

-Learn the words to “Freebird”

-Catch a fish and get it off hook

-Help your dad carry groceries to the house in the snow when he couldn’t get his truck up the driveway.

-Catch a shark with rod and reel

kal shark 2013

When he wanted to give up on his first attempt at finishing a song on Guitar Hero on Wii, I told him he’d lose his man card.  Giving up on a task just because it isn’t easy just isn’t acceptable.  So he stuck with it until he finished.

I finally told him he’d earned a man card.  Each additional test or task just earns a “punch” on the card.

“What can I do today, dad, to get another punch on my card?”

There are some things that little boys need to learn to do.  And there are certain things that dads need to try to teach their boys (and girls) to do……..even though they aren’t important skills.  Just part of being a dad and connecting with your kids.

I started running out of quick and easy answers.  Some became silly.

-Hit the bullseye on a dartboard.

-Load and start the dishwasher

-Wear the same underwear for three consecutive days.

So I started thinking of serious answers.  True life lessons to teach.  Sometimes to be taught by words.  Sometimes taught by our actions.  Dads, your children are watching you.

-Forgive someone who has wronged you

-Show initiative.  Notice when someone needs help and extend a helping hand.

-Close your mouth and listen when others are talking, and let them finish.

-Admit fault when you’re wrong

-Ask for forgiveness

-Never half-way do anything

-Speak kindly of others

-Share freely with others what the Lord has blessed you with

-Have a thankful heart

Teaching your sons to catch a fish or throw a spiral doesn’t quite make them a man.  But the time spent doing these things puts a dad into a position of being the most powerful influencer in the lives of his children.

Real men love.  Real men serve others.  Real men try their best to be like Jesus.

Matthew 20 NIV -//

whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Real men live to help those around them rise up…….to an eternal reward…..to their own life of impact.

“Dad, are man cards even real?”

I think so.  You get a new hole punched every time the Lord blesses you with the strength and ability to lift others up in some way.

Bear wrestling not necessary.

Keep Talkin Even When Nobody Seems To Hear

KR 8th grade night

Some things are worth repeating, even when your audience doesn’t seem to care or understand.

Some messages don’t bring immediate results or even draw the attention of your listeners.

But concepts that are modeled and “preached” consistently still stand a chance of becoming a part of someone’s character.

Such is the case when coaching kids in youth sports.

At younger ages, the mom/dad/coach figure gets by with fumbling through teaching the rules of the game and basic fundamental skills.

As players get older, the pressure to win often creates an unhealthy mix between learning and winning (winning now!).  Teaching of fundamentals, good work habits, team-building, and strong character often gets shoved into a corner while practices and instruction are centered on winning now and developing the next superstar.

Coaches at any age have the responsibility to help kids become their best…….at life.  Work ethic, determination, a competitive spirit, accountability.  They all come into play along the way.  And somewhere along the way, coaches have to realize that the kids they’re leading aren’t going to be playing the game much longer.

I’ve been privileged to coach two of my kids in basketball through three years of middle school, most recently my son.  As my son passed through his final middle school season, I became very aware of the future of him and his teammates.  They weren’t all going to be high school basketball players, but they were all going to be high school students soon.

The talks before, during, and after practices and games began to take more of a tone of developing strong character and making good decisions.  Most of these subjects were met with looks of “can we just start practice?” or kids not even listening as they put their shoes on to leave after a game.

A lesson I learned early in coaching was this: If at least one kid is listening, then I will keep saying what is important for them all to hear (but everybody else has to shut up for that one kid to hear).

The man who shared coaching duties with me also shared in leadership philosophies.  So we kept preaching.  And we may have bored some kids to death at times.  But we harped on concepts that applied on and off the court.

-Make good decisions.

-Be a good teammate.

-Decide that nobody will outwork you in practice today.

-Don’t just settle for whatever falls in your lap.  Work hard.  Compete hard.

-Earn the respect of your coaches, opponents, and teammates.

-Success and improvement doesn’t come overnight.  Do your best every day.

-If you don’t like where you’re at or how things are going, do something about it.

-The world doesn’t revolve around you, think of others.

-Never be a blamer or an excuse maker.

– Be a leader.  Do things to make the people around you better.

My son and some of his teammates have moved on to the world of high school basketball now.  I watch as a parent, and not a coach, for the first time since he was a 4th grader.  But the “nervous parent locked in on his own kid” has left me.

I watch all my former players closely now, observing as both a coach and a parent.  Cheering for small triumphs for each one.  Seeing how hard they compete.  Seeing how well they respond to coaching at the next level.  Trying to get a gauge on how well we prepared them for the “nexts” in life.

At a recent JV game, I got an unexpected glimpse at a lesson learned……one of those lessons we were often selling and doubted anybody was buying.

A two-on-none fast break.  Ballhandler approaches basket from the left.  He has a teammate on the right side of the basket, about two steps behind him.  Player with the ball hasn’t scored or even shot in this game (a big lead with minutes left).  In fact, he has scored very few points on the season.  But his open teammate on the right has just scored what may have been his first points of the season minutes earlier (with much celebration from the bench.

Instead of shooting a wide-open layup, he hesitates slightly and shovels the ball to his teammate for 2 more points.  Another small eruption from the home bench and a good response from the crowd.

I watch in silence.  It was my son that gave up the ball.  I looked at my wife without speaking.  He gets it.  My reaction would have been the same for any of the kids that may have made the same play.

I’ve been more excited at sporting events for my kids.  My daughter scored an unlikely acrobatic last minute goal to tie a regional semi-final soccer game……….and I may or may not have screamed like a madman and raced down the sidelines.  My other daughter made a free-throw with no time on the clock to send a game to overtime in a huge upset win……..made greater because I could see that she was a nervous wreck after missing the first one.

But I’ve never been more proud of one of my kids in a sporting event than I was at that moment.  “Son, people notice those things.  It’s not a big deal if you take that shot, but it is a big deal that you didn’t. People will remember what you did.  Those are the things that build teams and make them better.”

It’s not a big deal.  But it is.

“Make good choices.  Be a leader.  Do things to make the people around you better.”

He listened.  I know others did too.

Parents and coaches……keep preaching it.  They may not seem to be listening.  It may not help you win the next game.  But it may show up when you least expect it.

We’re not really raising ballplayers……we’re raising winners.

If it’s worth repeating, keep repeating it.

Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready To Play!

centerfield

THERE COMES A TIME IN EVERYONE’S LIFE WHERE THEY MUST TIP THE BALANCE AWAY FROM DOING THE THINGS THAT MAKE THEM STRONGER……AND START DOING THE THINGS THAT THEY DO WELL.

The ongoing struggle to balance life- family, church, work, community……with God at the center of all.

The day may come when balance is an impossibility.  There is no fight left in you to get through an average day…….because there are no average days anymore.

When you’re picking up pebbles and holding onto them for enough consecutive days, you eventually pack the weight of a boulder on your back.

Maybe some pebbles were steps of faith or acts of obedience to God.

Some, I’m sure, were misguided steps rooted in people pleasing and over-reliance on self.

But carrying something for good reasons doesn’t mean we need to carry it forever.

Look to God when you’re still standing instead of looking to Him after you collapse from the weight.

Maybe it wasn’t a breaking point, but more like a “something’s gotta change” moment.

I picked up my 9 year-old son from Wednesday night church activities after finishing a 14-hour work day.  As I was trying to have a short conversation with another adult, play-fighting/wrestling started between my son and me.

He hit me with a right hook……so hard that my glasses went flying across the room.  As I led him silently (and not so gently) out of the room, another child retrieved my glasses and nervously handed them to me.

She knew Kal was in big trouble  .And I knew something had to change.

I saw a glaring deficit of character in my son and I knew it was time for a sobering look in the mirror to see how he arrived there.

Among other things, I told him that this was the worst thing that any of our four children had done………..and then truth hit me square in the face this time.

During the first nine years of life for his brother and sisters, I wasn’t off trying to save the world…….living life like God had granted me some sort of invincibility.  Raising God-honoring children had been my greatest passion, and I somehow got off course.

Change came gradually.

My life’s not supposed to be easy.

Living life at a high rate of speed.  Rest is overrated.

To whom much is given much is expected.

Not worrying, just plotting the next challenge.

If you’re doing it for God, then God will provide a way to get through it.

Bend over and pick up the next pebble.

Sometimes in obedience to God.

Sometimes unintentionally people-pleasing.

Never willing to show weakness, I attracted the pebbles of others

As the weight gets heavier, does trust in God grow, or does one just simply work harder?

Maybe I started thinking, “That’s ok God…..I got this.”

Time and energy that God seems to supply when we follow His paths somehow go away.

My best hope for changing the world and changing eternity…..is to raise kids who have an amazing impact in this world.  Character doesn’t happen by accident, especially the kind that honors, obeys, and loves God.

Change has to happen.  If I knew how, I would.

Pray, and wait, and be ready to make changes today that don’t necessarily bring results tomorrow.

I traditionally go Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve by myself.  My oldest daughter was in from college, so I asked her to tag along.  Thankfully she said yes.  We shopped, not because we had to, but because we could.

It turned out to be a wonderful day spent together.  A day that felt so different than any in recent memory.  I transformed into a different person.  A person with a greater ability to impact the lives of those around me.  Relaxed.  Smiling and speaking to strangers.  Truly enjoying my daughter’s company.  Enjoying the moment in a new way.

Later in the evening, I came to realize why.

A mind at true rest.  The burden of problem solving and problem preventing that normally fills my mind was absent.  Even though I’m not a worrier by any means, I am a thinker and a planner…….constantly on guard against winding up in unfavorable situations.

Looking too far ahead.  Distracted.  Missing out on right now.  Constantly training and preparing for “tomorrow”.

Be careful of a life that becomes so full (even if it’s full of good things) that you spend your days in deep thought trying to solve it all, distracted from the present……..and the people in the present…..and in your presence.

A life that becomes too full for rest is in danger of becoming too full for God.

God’s love and direction in our lives can become clouded as we live like a panicked drowning man fighting against the person trying to pull us to the surface.

For the people who depend on you to shape their future, it’s important to have a vision for the future.  But their greatest hope may lie in your efforts to make the most out of each moment in the present……without distraction.

Sports teams in preseason practices get dreadfully restless and bored until the real games start.

“Coach, can we at least scrimmage today?”

“Coach, you gonna pass out uniforms today?”

Don’t be a Bengals fan, living each season for “next season”.

John Fogerty – Centerfield

Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes
You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride
Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all, a moment in the sun
It’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye!

Oh, put me in, Coach, I’m ready to play, today

It’s time to carry people instead of rocks!

Being a parent is a full-time job.  Do it well.  The season starts today.

Got the right uniform on again.  Put me in Coach.

 

Perfect Gifts, Blondie Records, & Who Moved My Stuff?

skynyrd christmas

No ugly ties or argyle socks for this dad on Christmas this year.  My four kids know me better than that.

Ten days removed from Christmas, the decorations are put away.  My oldest daughter is settled back in at college.  The others dread the end of Christmas break as they return to school tomorrow.  And I smile now as I reflect on the significance of each of their simple gifts to me, the beauty in the uniqueness of their personalities, and the ways they arrived at their purchases.

From Kal, my 9 year-old, the #1 DAD ink pen.  This is most likely my fourth such pen purchased from the elementary school Christmas shop.  It represents some of his first efforts into independent shopping and giving.  The key is to act like it’s the greatest pen that I’ve ever owned (it’s already broken).  The desire to do for others and the joy of giving doesn’t seem to come quite as naturally for boys, so one must work these moments hard.  So Kal knows this is, without a doubt, my favorite ink pen.

From my 15 year-old son, a Lynyrd Skynyrd book.  I taunted him a few weeks back that he had no idea what he was getting for Christmas.  He smiled and proudly exclaimed that “you don’t know what I got for you either…..but it’s from the heart, dad.  I promise”, as he grinned and patted me on the shoulder as I’ve done to him so many times before. I don’t think he’s ever put a lot of effort into gift buying in the past.  But I knew something was different this year as I watched his birthday money going toward handpicked gifts for his brother and sisters (accompanied by his own personal touch of sloppy gift wrap).  Anyway, he has a great appreciation and knowledge for a boy his age of cassette/vinyl era music.  We share a common bond and have great conversations about the subject. So I have this vision of him in the bookstore coming upon the Lynyrd Skynyrd book, and his realization that it was the perfect gift for dad.  The excitement of giving.  Well done my son.  Welcome to the world of “the joy of finding and giving the perfect gift”.

From my 16 year-old daughter, the wallet……and thermal underwear…….and Bengal earbuds.    My thoughtful child.  Starting in November, coming to me repeatedly, asking me for advice about gift-giving ideas for various family members.  Wanting to find a perfect or useful gift for everyone on her list.  She’s always taken gift-buying (or hand-making gifts) seriously since the days of those first #1 DAD pens.  She understands the joy of giving. She’s a detail person, a giver like her mother and I love that about her.   I knew she was watching me for months, trying so hard to find something that I needed.  I noticed some time ago that she noticed my ratty, worn out wallet.  I knew it was coming.   She may have been done shopping before December 1st.  She takes giving seriously.  I love her giving heart.

From my 18 year-old daughter, the Rolling Stones album.  A great gift.  Maybe even a last-minute gift?  I found my albums in crazy order with an album that I would never listen to (Blondie’s Greatest Hits) mysteriously on top on Christmas Eve.  Before gifts were exchanged, I jokingly asked the three older kids which one was out shopping and sent sent the text to someone at home “Hey, does dad have _____album?”, but nobody confessed.

Or the gift could have been almost an afterthought, because my oldest daughter knows me deeply.  We have this wonderfully unique relationship where we share 1,000 words without speaking, exchanging a glance or a smile and knowing exactly what one another is thinking.  I honestly wouldn’t care or notice if nobody gave me anything for Christmas.  Macy knows this.  Sure, she was gonna do something for her dad for Christmas.  But she understands that it’s no big deal if she doesn’t.

We ended up spending Christmas Eve shopping together, not so much because we actually needed to buy gifts…….but just because we could.  And that turned out to be the greatest gift that she could have given me.

She isn’t a worrier and doesn’t seem to fret over little things…….has a lot a confidence in her ability to pull things out at the last second, living by the seat of her pants…….like her dad.  I love that about her.

I sure hope nobody ever frets about finding a gift for me of any sort.  I hope my kids all find joy in giving and doing for others year round.  And I’m so very thankful that God made each of them so very unique.

Sometimes a simple pile of gifts can remind us of so much.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Just as my children are unique and wonderful to me, all people are unique and wonderful in God’s eyes.
We certainly can’t be everything to everybody, but it’s probably safe to say that we can be more to somebody each day by trying to see that somebody through the eyes of God……even if they happen to be wearing argyle socks and listening to Blondie.

The Scars of Christmas Past (not really)

cowboys 001

Like most boys growing up in the early 70’s, my older brother and I played a lot of cowboys and Indians.

TV choices were limited in those days but I remember large doses of Gunsmoke and John Wayne movies.

I recall a Christmas when our prized gifts were matching cowboy rifles with pump action and a real-life firing sound.

My memory was foggy as to the timing of the “accident”.  I thought it was later on Christmas evening, but my brother tells me it happened on Christmas morning (soon after receiving the guns).

I couldn’t exactly remember whose rifle it was, but I clearly remember my dad walking through the house rapidly cocking and firing the gun while referencing a TV show that was no longer on the air (The Rifleman).  At the end of the demonstration, the gun no longer made that cool realistic firing sound.  It made no sound at all.

Memory tells me that I wasn’t too upset at the time.  It could have been because I just didn’t worry too much about stuff, even as a kid.  Or it could have been because I truly believed that my dad could fix anything.  But the truth is that it wasn’t my gun that was broken.

My brother and I revived this story this Christmas when I was asked to share a Christmas memory along with my dad at my church for our Christmas Eve service.  When I told my brother of my “assignment”, he suggested the same story (and filled in some details that I was pretty sketchy on).

But when I brought it up to my dad, he had no recollection of the gun-breaking incident.

Christmas is a magical time in so many ways.  Dad didn’t remember.  But his two sons did…..forty years later.

What a great reminder!  The things that I do and say today with my kids may seem insignificant to me.  But they may be recalling them together forty years later.  That’s a pretty awesome reminder to slow down and least try to see Christmas (and life) through the excited eyes of a child.

Forty years after the broken gun incident, I have a pretty good grasp on the fact that stuff doesn’t matter.  And growing up, my dad really could fix pretty much anything that was broken.  But our Heavenly Father can fix everything that matters.  People matter.  He sent His Son to save all people.

Christmas matters.  The joy and the hope that we feel today as we celebrate our Savior’s birth should not escape us once the gifts are exchanged and the decorations are put away.  It’s a joy worth sharing year round.  Just as the magic of Christmas reminds us of an opportunity to create a lasting memory for a child, it should also remind us that all of our thoughts, words, and actions have significance each day.  Living a life that models our Savior impacts others for eternity……not just forty years.

Merry Christmas.