“Why Did Someone Give Me Away?”

Try answering that question for your seven-year-old adopted son. By all other accounts it was a normal conversation and a normal trip to school. Zeke had just met one of his reading goals at school and I was building him up, really trying to encourage him in his reading. And then Zeke asked the question that is always bubbling below the surface for an adopted child, “Why did someone give me away?” To him it was a normal question. So I appeared normal and answered in the same tone of voice I’d answered his previous twenty questions about reading and frogs and ninja turtles. On the inside though, I was crumbling. My heart broke for the simple reason that my son will always have to wrestle with that question, “Why did someone give me away?”

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Robin and I made the decision early on that our adopted children would know the truth from the beginning that they used to live in another mom’s belly. There’s no way to keep adoption secret for life, and if a child is a teenager or older when they find out, we’ve seen it have traumatic effects. But this is the downside, having to answer questions like this, not taking it personally, hurting for Zeke as he wrestles with his identity in this.

Here’s how I answered him this time (I’ll have many more opportunities to talk with him about it in future conversations). I told him that his birth mom didn’t give him away, she wanted to make sure that he had the best home possible. She wanted him to have a home with a mommy and a daddy, so he became a part of our family. She did what she did because she loved him and wanted the best for him. And his mommy and I thank God every day that we get to be his parents.

And then it was time for school. Watching the sprouting seven-year-old get out of the car and walk into school like he owned the place, all I could think of was a chunky, square-headed baby named Zeke the first time I met him, trying not to get emotional in the process. In the end I’ll take these occasional uncomfortable conversations. They’re a small price to pay for the honor of raising him as my son.

 

6 Ordinary Things You Can Give Your Kids That Will Have Extraordinary Results.

Here is some incredible parenting advice I learned from Reggie Joiner’s book Playing for Keeps. He makes the argument that the most important commodity you have with your children is time. Time makes what matters matter more. If you give your children six ordinary things consistently over time, you’ll build a legacy in them that will last a lifetime.

PFK_Cover

TIME over time gives someone a sense of history. Each week as a microcosm doesn’t seem like much. You’re making dinner, you’re changing a diaper, you’re reading a book. But small increments of time given over a long period of time gives a child a sense of history. That’s why it doesn’t work to ignore your kids all year and try and make it up with one big vacation. They want your time. A way to put this into practice is to visualize time. Get something like a jar of marbles to visualize how much time you have left with your children. Learn the rhythm of their week and be intentional. Make sure every weekend you’re doing something with your children.

LOVE over time gives someone a sense of worth. Research has shown that love is more important in the life of a child than in the life of an adult, because the deposits accumulate over time. Everyone is wired to love. The way to put this into practice is to prove it. Show up in their lives; be present. Give them rules; discipline shows that you care about their future. And truly know them; children change over the years and it’s on us as parents to keep up with their changing likes and dislikes.

WORDS over time give someone a sense of direction. That’s why the words we say around our kids and to our kids are so important. They can shape the direction of their lives. As parents it’s up to us to expand our vocabulary. Learn a new language. Weigh what you say around your kids. Recycle big ideas. Get involved in a good children’s/youth ministry and learn what they’re teaching so that you can reinforce it at home. A great idea for this is to create a custom poster with your child’s name on it and 7-10 words that cast a vision of what their life could be (words like ‘courageous,’ ‘honest,’ etc.) Put that poster up in their room and let them look at it everyday for a decade, and see what difference it makes.

STORIES over time gives someone a sense of perspective. We’re wired for stories. You can teach your child about courage, or you could tell them the story of David and Goliath. You could teach your child about trust, or you could tell them the story of Peter walking on the water. You could teach your child about God’s love, or you could tell them the story of Jesus dying on the cross for them. As parents we have the opportunity to amplify the story. Expose them to good stories. Create teachable moments throughout life. Discover the arts together. Stories are everywhere. Over time, stories will give your children incredible perspective on life.

TRIBES over time gives someone a sense of belonging. Every child wants to belong. No one wants to be the last one picked for kickball at recess. We all identify ourselves by tribes: mom, Baptist, feminist, saints fan, conservative, reader, pirate, etc. As parents it’s on us to be intentional about living in circles. Give your kids tribes to belong to. Keep traditions in your home and eat meals together; they give a child a sense of belonging. Find them a seat in meaningful tribes. The two critical tribes you can connect your child to are a healthy family tribe and a healthy church. Make sure your kids belong to those tribes, and they’ll do well in life.

FUN over time gives someone a deeper connection. Kids are created with an inner ‘play’ drive. So play with them! I know as parents we are programmed to protect, but make sure that your ‘don’t’ list doesn’t overtake your ‘do’ list. Your kids need to play. And more importantly, you need to play with them. So make it fun. Loosen up. Lose the agenda. Learn what they like to play and play with them. As you play with your kids over time, you’ll create a deeper connection that will last a lifetime.

Whatever matters will matter even more over time. Love is just love. It’s a second-hand emotion—until you put it over time. Then it does something amazing. It gives a kid worth. Words are just something to help you win at Scrabble. They’re something you tweet to get more followers—until you put them over time. Then, they become a collection of messages that moves someone in a better direction. Stories are just experiences that happen to have happened. But when you collect stories over time, they expand a child’s imagination in a way that can shape his or her perspective. Tribes are just people linked together by common interests. They’re clubs you can sign up to attend—until you put them over time. Then they become a family or community where a child can experience belonging. Fun is just a good time. It’s fun, period, just an Indie pop band – until you put it over time. Then it creates a powerful connection. It takes your friendship with your child deeper. What you are doing every week will matter more in someone’s life when you do it week after week, month after month, year after year. And when you combine love, words, stories, fun and tribes together over time, they gain collective momentum, they make history, they build a legacy.

*All worthwhile content on this blog post came from this amazing book, Playing for Keeps. Order it today!

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Step One in Strengthening Your Marriage

originally posted as Step One: Pray Together on August 27, 2012

I don’t know where you are in your marriage. You may be just starting out or rounding out twenty years together. Your fire may still be burning bright or may have died out a long time ago, leaving only lukewarm embers.

As I’ve counseled with couples about their marriages, I’ve found that every situation is unique. Every marriage has its own baggage and history. But there are a few things that will help any marriage. Here’s one I want to share with you today.

Your marriage may be on the ropes or going strong. You may need serious intervention or just a minor tune-up. But wherever you are, step one to making your marriage stronger is to pray together everyday. The good news about this step is that it’s free. It won’t fix all your problems, but it’s a good first step. Here’s what you’ll discover when you pray together:

1. It’s hard to hate someone you pray with. As you pray for and with your spouse, you’ll find your heart softening up for them. You’ll begin to see them not through your eyes (as a selfish or controlling spouse) but through God’s eyes (a messed up sinner in need of grace). Try this. It works. If you have hard feelings towards your spouse, pray for them and with them. See how God sees.

2. Praying invites God into your marriage. By praying, you’re acknowledging that you need a greater power in your marriage. If you’ve been married long enough, you realize that you can change your spouse only up to a certain point. If you really want to see life change in your partner, then God’s got to be the one to do it. Praying invites God to do what only He can do.

3. Praying humbles you. Prayer is a great reminder that we can’t do it all on our own. Prayer asks God to do what we can’t. It doesn’t seem like much, but humility goes a long way in God’s economy. Pride and arrogance, on the other hand, are the surest ways to derail anything God wants to do in you. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10

4. Praying unites you with your spouse at a foundational level. This is why praying together is so much more beneficial than simply praying alone for your spouse. It’s hard to explain. It’s something you need to experience. When you pray with your spouse, you’re engaging in a deeply spiritual activity with another person. The spiritual is the deepest part of you, so you’re connecting with someone at their deepest level. Praying with my wife unites us in a way that almost nothing else can.

Try it for a week. It will only take five minutes. Whether it’s at the breakfast table or by the side of your bed, carve out time everyday to pray authentic prayers together to God, and see what happens to your marriage.

QUESTION: How has praying together with your spouse benefitted your marriage?

 

image: www.freedigitalphotos.net

“He’s So Lucky He Has a Stepdad!”

It’s eye opening to experience first hand the innocence of youth. Recently a new family moved into our neighborhood. They have boys. That’s a good thing. There are currently 10 boys (now 12) in our neighborhood that play together, roaming around like Hell’s Angels on their Huffys and Schwinns. My oldest, Zeke (7), befriended one of the new boys and came home one day and told me, “[My friend] is so lucky, he has a stepdad!” Record scratch, head jerked sideways, “What you talkin’ about Willis?”

8.27.14I asked him what he meant. Apparently when Zeke was asking his new friend about his parents, he was told he lived with his mom and stepdad. Zeke had never heard of a stepdad before. What was that? It was like another dad that he lived with. So Zeke told me, “He’s lucky he has a stepdad because when one dad goes to work, the other one gets to stay home and play with him.” Wouldn’t it be great if it worked out like that?

I had what we call in the business “a teachable moment” and got to introduce my 7-year-old my the finer intricacies of divorce. Afterwards, Zeke didn’t think his new friend was so lucky. The whole episode reminded me of the simplicity of what marriage is supposed to be. One man, one woman, together for life. That’s what our kids are born expecting. We’re the ones who mess things up.

12 years strong married to Zeke’s mom (and my wife). With every power of my being, I never want Zeke to ever have to walk through a divorce first-hand. I never want him to have a stepdad.

The Phone Call I Hope I Never Have to Make About Your Marriage

Recently I had to make a phone call that broke my heart. It’s a phone call that I hope I never have to make again. A few years ago a couple came to me for marriage counseling. They had been struggling with issues for years but hadn’t talked to anyone about them. We met several times and made a little bit of progress but no breakthroughs. They couldn’t meet in the middle. Counseling kind of petered out and they eventually moved to a different state.

telephoneAs life goes we lost track of each other until I received a letter from a lady I’ve never met. She told me she was the guardian ad litem for this couple. They’re getting a divorce. It’s getting messy. Accusations are flying back and forth. And worst of all, there are kids involved. The relationship had deteriorated to such a point that the government had to step in to help decide where the kids went.

That’s where my phone call came in. The guardian ad litem received permission from both parties to talk to me and get my take on the situation. It was a depressing phone call to say the least. I believed and still believe that it was a marriage that could have been saved. The greatest casualties are the children, pawns with no say in the matter.

I hope I never have to make a phone call like that again. If your marriage needs help, get help. Don’t stick your kids in the middle. Don’t make the government decide where they go. Talk to someone this week.

12 Things I Learned On Vacation

After spending a wonderful week with my family, here are twelve takeaways that every person might need to know. You’re welcome.

8.4.141. You can never eat enough grilled shrimp at the beach.

2. A vacation with a 2-year-old is a faux-cation.

3. Vacationing with three young kids is truly a vacation when you’re used to four.

4. You feel bad about ditching your 3-month old with her grandmother until you see another family trying to ‘relax’ on the beach with a 4-month old (ain’t happening).

5. Songs from The Wiggles will haunt you in your sleep after listening to them in the van for five hours.

6. I love building sandcastles way too much.

7. When the string on the kite gets tangled, just give up. It’s not worth it.

8. The biggest fights your kids will have will be over who gets to push the elevator buttons.

9. Trying to eat (and enjoy) a nice sit down dinner at an expensive restaurant = fail. Making do with PB&J on the beach = win.

10. When your 7-year-old son gets super amped up about looking for seashells, just roll with it.

11. When you forget to lock the front door to your condo, plan on spending at least fifteen minutes frantically looking for your 2-year-old who likes to “be adventurous.”

12. There are moments when everyone is calm, no one needs anything, everything is peaceful, and you can truly relax. Enjoy those three minutes each day!

Looking forward to going back again next year!

 

The Greatest Thing About Having Four Kids

I should probably put something sentimental here, something like ‘there’s always peace and joy in the house,’ but that would be a misrepresentation of reality. I’ve got four kids ages 7 and under. Sometimes there’s more crying than joy (especially when more than one of them gets going at once!). 7.21.14To be completely honest, parenting four young kids is exhausting. I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way, but my kids wear me out. Robin and I try and trade off nights to actually sleep (one of us gets to sleep, the other gets up with the kids if needed). In reality, Robin gets up a lot more than I do. Last night was my night to stay up. It was a typical night, getting up four times (three times with our infant Elle and once to stop a four-year-old trying to sneak into ‘mommy’s bed’). It can be exhausting at times, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. I love how my life has unfolded.

Here’s the greatest thing about having four kids: you get over ‘you’ real quick.When you’ve got four young kids, the amount of ‘you’ time is laughable. I used to play golf a lot, then I had kids. I used to be able to watch whatever I wanted on tv. Now it’s a steady diet of Barney and The Wiggles. Robin and I used to be able to go out and eat whenever we wanted. We laugh at the thought now.

Our schedules revolve around nap time and bedtime. Even something simple like getting the family dressed and ready for church is a herculean effort. There is always another kid who needs something from the refrigerator, another diaper to change, another baby to be held. By the time we’ve successfully run the gauntlet and gotten the kids tucked in for the night, Robin and I usually fall down exhausted, coveting a full night’s sleep, knowing that one of us won’t get it.

Parenting four young children (simultaneously) is stretching, demanding, all-consuming, exhausting. And yet in the midst of this I find joy. I realize I don’t have to focus on myself to find happiness. As I empty myself out for the good of others, I discover a God who is ready to fill me up with a joy that never runs out. Once I get over me, I’m in a position to receive the blessings and joy and fullness that God promises me in Scripture. The trick is to remember that joy at 3 am when I’m changing a diaper while half-asleep.

QUESTION: How has parenting your children been a blessing to you?

Repost: 601 Marbles

11.15.13

originally posted November 15, 2013

I have 601 weeks left until my oldest son Zeke graduates high school. I know that may seem like a lot, but when he was born I had 936 weeks. I’ve already lost a third of my time with him.

In his book Playing for Keeps, author Reggie Joiner makes a great suggestion to help parents visualize the amount of time they have left with their kids. He suggests that you get a glass jar and fill it with marbles, one marble for every week you have left with your child. Each week, take a marble out and throw it away. It will serve as a tangible reminder that the few moments you have with your children are precious.

So, I have three glass jars on my nightstand. One for each of my boys. Each Sunday, I take out another marble and throw it away. I don’t like it. It makes me a bit sad. But it’s incredible motivation for me. Every time I’m tempted to waste a day, watch a useless television show, or squander a weekend, I see the jars of marbles. Every time my boys want to play ‘rough’ and I’m not feeling up to it, every time they want to throw the football outside even though it’s freezing, every time they want me to take an interest in what they’re doing even though I’d rather be watching SportsCenter, I see the jars of marbles.

When I see the jars of marbles, it serves as a reminder that every week is precious. I’ve already lost a third of my time with Zeke. How I choose to spend the remaining time with him is up to me. I want to make every marble count.

To help calculate how many weeks you have left with your kids, download the free Legacy Countdown app from the App Store.

What the Church Can Learn from Chuck E. Cheese

chuck_e_cheeseLast week my family took our semi-annual pilgrimage to the mecca of children’s experiences: Chuck E. Cheese. We didn’t just go there. We shut the place down. Three hours (and a fistful of tickets) later, we walked out of there full, victorious, and with a few cheap plastic toys that broke within an hour. But that’s beside the point.

On the drive home, I began to dwell on what elements in this restaurant would captivate the attention of my two-year-old for three hours. That’s quite a feat! (It’s also the only public restaurant we willingly take him to). The more I thought about it, I pulled out a few overarching principles that I think apply to the church:

1. It was fun. I say the words “Chuck E. Cheese” to my kids, and their eyes light up. Why? Because it’s fun. They get to run around, they get to play games, they have freedom to explore. Our kids would drag us to Chuck E. Cheese if they could. Fun isn’t a sin. Fun is fun. Is there an element of fun, of joy in our Children’s Ministries, in our churches?

2. It was interactive. Chuck E. Cheese is sensory overload for a kid. They literally impact all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). The kids don’t just sit and watch. They get up and do. They get to take part. A church will always better capture the hearts of children and families when those families get to do more than just “sit and watch.” Churches should work hard to engage all five senses.

3. It was simple. One token, one game. All games are one token. Simple enough for a toddler to understand. Some games were worth more, but for the sake of simplicity all games are one token. Simple sells. The lack of theological understanding and biblical foundation is only increasing with this generation. To reach them, we must start simply.

4. It was rewarding. My boys were laser-focused on winning those tickets. They didn’t just want to be entertained through the games, they wanted to win something. At church, how are we rewarding people? How are we enabling our people to participate in and celebrate the rewards of the Christian life? We should want them to know that all their sacrifice and hard work they’ve given to the church is worth it.

5. It was safe. My wife’s favorite aspect of Chuck E. Cheese was the check-in system. Our whole family got a unique stamp, and it was checked again before we went out. Our kids were safe to roam. That safety enabled my wife and I to enjoy the experience without worrying about our children’s safety. In today’s society, safety is king. A church must have a secure check-in system for preschoolers and children if they want to have any type of effective ministry.

QUESTION: What else can we learn from Chuck E. Cheese’s?

The Difference Between Homosexual Orientation and Homosexual Behavior

6.24.14Today’s guest post comes from a friend of mine, Todd Rayburn. Todd is a 2000 graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling. He’s worked in psych hospitals, clinics, school systems and in private practice. He currently has a private practice in Picayune, MS.

My journey on the issue of homosexuality dates back to my high school and early college years (late ‘80’s). I found myself around an unusually high number of gays and lesbians as many family and friends began to confide in me about their problems. I noticed that as I entered into my early adulthood that gays and lesbians would seek me out and I could not understand why because I am without a doubt heterosexual.  I noticed that my “gaydar” (as the homosexual community calls it) was at least as good as any gay person I knew and I could spot a gay person a mile away. All this left me quite confused because I was, am and will always be heterosexual. So I began to pray and ask God why all this was happening. Why were all these people coming to me? Why did I have the ability to just pass some normal looking guy on the street and instantly know he was gay? God began to reveal to me that he was preparing me for the ministry of counseling and that this would be a major issue affecting families. This began my search and my eventual theological understanding of homosexuality.

I often noticed in debates about the subject that the term “homosexuality” was thrown around very loosely and inevitably one side would argue that it was sin and the other would argue the opposite. I finally realized that the term was being use synonymously for both homosexual behavior/lifestyle and homosexual orientation. I noticed that this left audiences confused – thinking the two parties were talking about the same thing when they were in fact talking about two entirely different concepts. Once I realized this, I began to talk to gays and listen to how they described themselves. I also listened to their stories of how they evolved and realized they were different. I listened to how they felt about themselves. It was eye opening to say the least. I began looking at studies on the subject and I combed through all the relevant scriptures. By the time I entered the counseling program at New Orleans Seminary in 1998, I had a pretty good handle on the theology of homosexuality. I discovered that many of my professors had a similar understanding of scripture but no one was talking about it openly. Here we are some 16 years later and now the world is dragging us kicking and screaming into the argument and we are still not educating our people on this subject. We are still more focused on the political than the spiritual. We are still allowing theological ignorance to rule over truth. So what is the truth and what do we know?

Studies tell us that many self identified heterosexuals in the prison system have engaged in homosexual behavior just for human contact and due to a lack of opposite sex partners (Eigenberg, 1992; Sagarin, 1976). These studies also showed that once these people were released, they returned to heterosexual behaviors exclusively. They had been involved in the homosexual lifestyle without having a homosexual orientation. Likewise, many closeted gays and lesbians get married to opposite sex partners and have families before coming out. They have a homosexual orientation but they spend years without engaging in the lifestyle. What is the difference?

Gays and lesbians will tell you that having a homosexual orientation means that when they think about sex or have sexual urges, these urges are directed toward the same sex. They always say that they didn’t ask for these urges. They don’t want them. They want to ignore them and make them go away but just can’t ‘will’ it to happen. The urges are invasive and overwhelming. Does that sound familiar? It should because we all have that same experience. Only for us heterosexuals, it’s for someone of the opposite sex. Their orientation is not now, nor will it ever be a matter of choice. Of all the gays and lesbians I know (and I know a lot), I have never met anyone who chose to have a homosexual orientation.

Homosexual orientation is not sin nor are gay people in sin by having a homosexual orientation. Scripture is clear on the matter that homosexual acts are sin. It is the lifestyle that is the sin. Every scripture you can find on the subject that condemns homosexuality is condemning the acts. So what does scripture say about the orientation?

James 1:14 clearly outlines the progression of sin. Sinful or evil desires (Strongs -1939, epiqumia) “drag us out” to temptation. Temptation leads to sin and sin to death. We all understand that sinful and evil desires are not sin but distortions of the good, God given desires we have. For example, the desire to eat and maintain our body become a desire to glutten ourselves. The desire to talk to one another and build community becomes backbiting and quarrels.  I could go on but you get the point. While these desires are called sinful they are in fact not sin but precursors to temptation. They are the reasons we are all tempted in our own unique ways and struggle with the same sin our entire life. God given desires can get distorted by our own sin, sin imposed on us by others or even just the general fall of man. Often times, we don’t know why we have a distorted desire problem. We just do. While I have a number of theories about homosexual orientation, no one but God really knows why it exists and what factors cause it to develop.

Romans 1:24, 26-28 give us our only real look at homosexual orientation. To summarize, God had put his hedge of protection around a people to protect them from themselves. That’s no big surprise because that is a habit of His. He develops a relationship with them (they “knew” God) but it was not a salvation knowledge of God. God offered Himself to these people and they reject Him in favor of other “gods.” The Bible then says He “gave them over” (Strongs – 3860, paradidwmi) to the sinful desires of their heart. He did not force it upon them. He gave them over to the same sinful desires described in James 1. It did not say He put those desires in their hearts because after all, James 1:13 tells us that God does not tempt. He simply took his hedge of protection from them because they made it clear they did not want Him. He gave them over to the desires that were already in their hearts. How did they get there? Again, I don’t know and quite frankly, it doesn’t really mater. What matters is what will each of us do with the gospel and if saved, will we choose to honor God regardless of how we feel and what sinful desires well up within us? Romans 1 was about homosexual orientation but it could have just as easily been about any other sin (false witness, murder, covetousness, adultery).  The bottom line is that homosexual orientation is a desire issue that leads to temptation. It is not sin. At the point of temptation, we have a choice to reject the urge or embrace it and sin. We do not have the choice of what desire problems we face. If a heterosexual man sees an attractive woman and is unwillingly confronted with a sexual thought, is that sin or temptation? It is temptation. If he rejects the thought, he does not sin. If he embraces the thought in his heart and acts on the temptation either physically or mentally, he sins.  So it is with homosexually oriented people.

So then how should we act and what should we do? Love people and be honest. Part of winning people to Christ is to give them the whole truth. Just as Paul prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be taken from him and it never was, so we have our own thorns in the flesh that never leave us. Most (99.9999%) homosexuals will never see their orientation change regardless of their salvation. For them to be saved means a life of constant sexual urge management and for most, celibacy. There are those that can have heterosexual urges as they seek God and grow closer to Him. But in times of stress and times of spiritual valley, the homosexual urges come back with a vengeance. They also need to know what scripture says about their orientation and behavior. The homosexual community respects this honesty. In this way, we CAN stand for what is right and moral in scripture while still fulfilling the Great Commission in the gay community. They may or may not embrace Christ but at least it opens the door to sharing the gospel rather than our rhetoric closing their hearts before we get to the gospel presentation. If we communicate the gospel and a sound theological argument regarding homosexual orientation and lifestyle, we will still have to make that decision Dr. Mohler spoke of, but we can do it with the compassion and love Josh spoke of – no compromises.

 

Additional Scriptures: Rom. 7:18-25, 8:1-17, 9:19-21; James 1:21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 10:13; 2 Tim. 4:2-5; 2 Pet. 1:3-9, 2:6-22; Gen. 3:6; Matt. 12:34; Mark 7:20-22; 1 John 2:17, 5:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:14; Psalm 103:5; Eph. 2:3, Jude 18-19, Jer. 17:10.

 

Eigenberg, H. (1992). Homosexuality in male prisons: Demonstrating the need for a social constructionist

approach. Criminal Justice Review, 17(2), 219-234.

 

Sagarin, E. (1976). Prison homosexuality and its effect on post-prison sexual behavior. Psychiatry,

39, 245-257.