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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Empty Life of Knowing It All

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Five short years ago I had the honor of baptizing my daughter Maddie.

I remember standing at the front of our church asking our congregation to pray for Maddie and her peers,

“These kids aren’t going to hide in the corners.  They’re gonna make an impact in their schools and their community.”

I really had no idea what that meant at the time, but I’m learning.

Maybe Maddie’s biggest impact has been on her dad, and she’s already making a difference that reaches far beyond her school and community.

While attending Maddie’s recent high school soccer game, I noticed our goalkeeper leaving the field after a flurry of activity near the goal (I assumed she took a ball to the face and had to exit the game because of the presence of blood).

I looked up to see one of Maddie’s good friends putting on the keeper jersey and gloves, and sprint enthusiastically onto the field.

If you happened to be the opponent or simply didn’t know better, you’d think this was her normal position.(it isn’t)

She took to the goal like she owned it.

A smile spread across my face because this was one of “my own kids”, one that I’d coached for three years of middle school basketball and been around the sidelines for many of her youth travel soccer games.

I turned to another parent who also knew her spirit well,

“That’s what I love about Mandy.  She has absolutely no idea what she CAN’T do.”

As adults, we have full awareness of what we can’t do.  We revolve our days and our lives around what we can’t do or what we think can’t happen.

I have faith….or claim to.

I believe in the truths of the Bible.  I believe in God’s promises for this life and for eternity.  I believe in the resurrection of Jesus with all my heart and mind…..but still.

I think I know everything.  I live by sight.  I analyze everything and put too much trust in the mind that I was given.

If logic says it can’t be done, then I most likely won’t take the first step toward doing it.

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
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It pains me to admit that Maddie is no longer a little child, but she possesses a trust in God that adults find difficult to find because our brains are crowded with life experiences and our own “answers” to what comes next.
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Maddie returned from a Christ In Youth conference this summer with a determination to become involved with a Christian missionary organization called 1Mission.

1Mission assists severely impoverished families in Latin American countries in building safe homes, and in return, asks that those receiving new homes do service projects in their own communities.

$4000 to put a family in safe housing.  Maddie set up her own campaign on their website and was assigned a family.

An ambitious amount for a 15 year-old girl without income.  (Gee Maddie, that’s a lot of money…..I thought it but didn’t say it out loud).

But she was determined to make a change.  And she had faith.

Her main fundraising idea was an arts and crafts auction.

She announced at our church and on social media her desire to collect at least 100 pieces of donated art for a silent auction at our church’s life center building.  (Gee Maddie, 100 donated pieces, that’s a lot, I don’t see you getting that many…….again, I was silent).

As the auction date approached, donations trickled in, one by one at our home, our church, and at my family business.  But still, she seemed to have no more than fifty pieces.

The final day leading up to the auction saw a wave of last minute donations.

The scope of her dream was beginning to take shape Friday night as we set up the gym for Saturday’s activities.  Volunteers showed up to help Maddie decorate and set up tables to display the donated items.

Not only was it clear that she had well over 100 items, it was clear that there were pieces donated that were of great sentimental value to those who gave.  There was something special in the air for sure.

Moments before the scheduled start time, I surveyed the gym with a sense of joy at Maddie’s faith and the display of God’s love by His people.

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But my own doubts crept in again.

After all her hard work, her great faith and desire to make a difference:

What if nobody shows up?

 

The events of the night went well.  Maddie was within $1000 of her $4000 goal at the close of the night.

I awoke early this morning, rested and with a bit more clarity in my mind.

And I had an unwelcomed visitor……a burden, that feeling of a need to speak during church…..about raising a generation of true followers of Christ who live by faith…..and adults living with doubts, living by sight.

I cried like a baby on my way to church by myself for a prayer meeting.

I’d been through a 70+ hour work week and battled severe exhaustion along with that poisonous mentality of “nobody better ask me to help with their stuff because I surely can’t even take care of my own.”

And during that drive there was this sudden sense of “when you’re at the end of your rope, God shows up in amazing ways.”

I realized that God’s way of lifting me back up was simply in the pleasure of witnessing Maddie’s faith and the chain reaction of love and kindness that it sparked (and it hit me sorta hard).

When you absolutely can’t take any more…….drop what you’re doing and do something for somebody else.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Our preacher’s sermon today was on David and Goliath.

From beginning to end of Maddie’s vision to build a home for a family, she only saw God.

Each time I doubted ($4,000 is too much, 100 is too many, “what if nobody comes”) I saw Goliath.

She knows how big her God is.

She had faith and her faith grew.

Because of her faith, my faith grew.

She gave me the boldness to speak up in church this morning, and perhaps God helped me find the words.

After church dismissed, our amazing church family picked up the remaining items and the final $1,000 was raised.

God is good.

One more family will have safe housing conditions.  We know that for sure.

And faith grew.  What will happen from this??

I don’t know……as much as I thought I did.

But I know now that if I stop looking at Goliath, I will be reminded that the only thing that matters is how big God is.

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Raising Strong Daughters #2: Girls Need to Fish With Their Dad

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Little girls may not necessarily need to learn to fish in order to survive as adults.  But any time they feel like they’re the only person or the most important person in the world to their dad has to build a strong sense of value and security that carries into their adult lives.

I recall family camping trips at a local state park when my kids were small.  Macy was 6, Maddie 4, Karrick Ryne 3 at the time.  Camping with large groups of friends who also have small children creates large doses of chaos (and volume).

There were times when I would “sneak” Macy away from the surrounding wildness of the other 12 kids and head to the shaded lake shore with our fishing poles.  Quiet time.  Just one of my little girls and me.  Sometimes she was content to play with the worms.  Sometimes she caught fish and got excited.  But these moments were special……..just the two of us.

We never talked much.  Still don’t today.  Actions speak louder than words.  Just  being there for your daughter consistently has great value (especially at times when conversation becomes awkward).

As Maddie got a little older, she tagged along too.  It always seemed like the natural thing to say when we were together, “Girls, my favorite thing in the world to do is to go fishing with you!”  And it truly was.  I knew life was good.

I’m sure they didn’t know how much they meant to their dad during those times.  But it’s because of those times that they know how much they mean to me now.

Daughters are to be treasured by their dads.  If we want them to stand strong as they grow older, they must know how valued they are every step along the way.  I may be stretching things a bit here, but I’m betting that little girls that do a lot of fishing (or other things obviously) with their dads have a lot less doubts and insecurities as they get older.

Dads need to look for and create those times where their girls know they are the most important thing in the world to you.  Erase doubts.  Make them a priority.  Treasure them.

My girls’ interest in fishing faded in their teen years.  I booked a fishing charter on vacation a couple of years ago, and I’m pretty sure my girls only went because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings.  Somewhere in their minds, they probably heard, “girls, my favorite thing in the world to do is to go fishing with you.”  So they went.  And I was the one who felt treasured.

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I pretty much quit inviting them after that.  Didn’t want to guilt them into it.  On a beach vacation last year, I had been rising early in the morning to surf-fish with my boys most days.  One night Macy shocked me by asking if she could go the next morning.  I was truly touched.  Just like old times.  Quiet times, just the two of us.  Not a lot of conversation.  Just me and my big girl.  The unspoken bond built from a lifetime of moments like this (and a shared memory of being told “you can’t fish here anymore because catching sharks is illegal.”………somebody forgot to tell the shark).

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Not strong because they fish…….strong because their dad treasures them, spends time with them.

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.

 

 

 

 

Travel Sports and Sunday Games Are More Satanic Than Kiss Albums

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I’ll admit it.  Three of my kids have played travel sports.  They even played on Sundays.  Sometimes we missed church two Sundays in a row.  Shriek!

Their mother and me thought our girls would be the next Mia Hamm and our son is the next Lebron James.  And of course, if they are to go to college without paying for it, they need to play anywhere and everywhere and often.  Right?  No, not at all.

No, this isn’t another lengthy blasting of youth/travel sports taken too far by overzealous parents.  It’s more like a gentle reminder of the delicate balance that exists between sports and faith in our children.

Sports teach kids things that words and parental modeling alone cannot.  Teamwork, physical challenges, determination, overcoming adversity, and lessons in character just to name a few.
And sports can certainly teach an observant parent valuable lessons along the way (by watching other parents and coaches) in exactly how not to act.

I’ll skip right to what I believe to be the tipping point of that balance: when parents lead or allow their kids to believe that a sports game or practice is more important than their faith or church attendance.

When the traveling is over and your kids are beginning to make more of their own choices, what’s the message they have been hearing from their parents during their travels and adventures?  When they make their own choices about church attendance and involvement, what will they choose?  Which end of the scale are you pushing them toward?

Traveling time with family during the younger years is golden time.  The memories, experiences, and friendships made are priceless.  The absence from church services is temporary.  But the importance placed on faith must be constant.

That kid that missed 4 weeks of Sunday church service as a 9 year-old will be 15 before you know it.  The depth of their faith and the value it has in their life will not be dependent on where they spent those four Sundays.  It will depend largely on the message they receive from their parents over the course of the entire 52 weeks.

Teach well.  Make sure kids know that you’re not away from church because sports are more important.  Keep your eyes open for teaching moments.  As your kids get older, the moments become clearer.  Are you prepared for them?  And more importantly, how well have you prepared your kids for them?

A local basketball tournament changes schedules around and places your son’s team playing on Sunday.  Let him know it’s ok to choose to go to church and miss his game.  Let the choice be his, but lay out the steps for him to choose faith over sports.

Your daughter’s soccer coach holds practice on Wednesday nights during your church’s youth group activities.  Let the choice be hers to make.  Make sure she knows that you think it’s awesome if she makes the choice to attend youth group.

Encourage them to take those bold steps that say, “My faith in God is the center of my life.”

Yes, sports are a wonderful part of a child’s development in so many ways.  But they are temporary.  Parents have to be aware when the balance scales are tipping dangerously in the wrong direction.

“I can’t miss a single practice, no matter what.”  The tipping point is when parents adopt this same philosophy.

And like sports are temporary, childhood is temporary.  A big part of parenting is simply training up our children to make good choices as they mature.

Pave the way for these types of choices, encourage them:

“Coach, I won’t be at practice tonight.  I’m going to church.”

“Coach, I’m not going to soccer camp this year.  I’m going on a mission trip.”

“Coach, I’m going to miss some summer league games.  I’m going to church camp.”

Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you are on a given Sunday morning.  It matters greatly where your heart is and the lessons that your life speaks year-round.

Play hard.  Have fun.  Watch the scales.

The sports equipment goes to the yard sales and closets sooner than you realize.

Hopefully, most of us won’t wait til then to try to convince our kids how important a Christ-centered life is.