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?

12 Things You’ll Learn After Twelve Years of Marriage

IMG_0494Yesterday my gorgeous wife and I celebrated twelve years of marriage. I’ve blogged about marriage many times, but my anniversary is another opportunity to share what I’m learning along the way. Here are 12 things you’ll learn after twelve years of marriage:

1. You’ll look back at your wedding photos and say, “Who are those kids?”

2. Being knee deep in parenting, you’ll think back and wonder, “What did we do with all that free time we had before we had kids?”

3. You’ll learn which fights are worth fighting, and more importantly, which one’s aren’t.

4. You’ll laugh at the false narratives of marriage being portrayed in the media (movies, sitcoms, etc).

5. You’ll find beauty in the mundane; you’ll find richness in the quiet moments with your spouse.

6. If you’ve made it twelve years, then you and your spouse will have already gone through the fire and come out stronger on the other side. You’ll have realized a new strength forged in your marriage.

7. You’ll learn that marriage doesn’t get easy after twelve years. It might get a little easier, but it never gets easy.

8. You’ll acknowledge that one of the greatest competitors to maintaining romance with your spouse is your own children.

9. To be successfully married for twelve years, you’ll have surmised that marriage is the most humbling, the most sacrificing, and most transformative thing you can ever do in life. It forever changes you.

10. You’ll have discovered a level of intimacy with another human being that you’ve never experienced before.

11. You’ll get this sense that your spouse truly does complete you. You’ll acknowledge that marriage really is God’s beautiful design.

12. You’ll learn that even though you spend every day with your spouse, you still have so much more to learn.

QUESTION: What have you learned after your years of marriage?

The Difference 7 Years Can Make

IMG_0324Seven years ago, the narrative of Robin and I’s marriage was that we were the young couple that couldn’t have kids. Then our oldest son Zeke was born (seven years ago today). Two and a half months later we would meet him for the first time and take him home to adopt him. And then we met Shepherd two years later. Another two years went by and then God blew our minds and we had our first natural born son, Lincoln.

Today we’re meeting our little girl Elle who will complete our family. Her full name is Emmanuelle, and she is a living testimony that God continues to be with us. With kid number four, I think we’ll have to give up that narrative as the couple who couldn’t have kids. I think God’s proved his point. He can make the miraculous happen. He has blessed time and time again, and we look forward with breathless anticipation to see what He does over the next seven years.

May you be able to see and appreciate the miracles God has worked in your lives!

How to Keep Your Kids From Becoming ‘Punk’ Kids

PPF_FBWe all know those kids: the ‘punk’ kids. The ones who throw a tantrum in the grocery store. The ones who have an unnecessary meltdown on the ball field. The ones who act at least five years younger than their age. The ones to completely disrespect their parents in public. The ‘punk’ kids. Lack of discipline in families is all around us.

What contributes to it? You can’t discount the sin nature inside of them, creating a gravitational pull towards selfishness. Busyness plays a role, as we’re simply too busy to discipline. Sometimes we lack a strong enough bond with our own kids to see discipline have a lasting effect. Some parents are too weak-willed, unable to endure inconveniencing their kid in any way. Divorce can disunite parents and break trust with the kids, and differing parenting styles from neighboring parents can erode a strong sense of discipline. In the end though, many parents look at discipline and simply say it’s too hard.

What’s at stake? Much more than we think. We think the worst that could happen is that kids grow up disrespectful and bring dishonor to the family, but even that is thinking selfishly, how our kids affect us. What does a lack of discipline do to a child? Discipline your children, for in that there is hope;
 do not be a willing party to their death” (Proverbs 19:18). From the Bible’s perspective, discipline is a matter of life and death. To use a stark example, if you walked past a swimming pool and noticed a toddler struggling to stay afloat in the water, when you fail to discipline, it’s as if you walk right on past the swimming pool, leaving the toddler to fend for herself.

How can you begin to make headway with discipline in your house?

  1. Be disciplined yourself. Here’s the uncomfortable reality: disciplined people discipline people. If your life is disciplined, discipline will be easier for you. But if your life is chaos, don’t be surprised if your children follow suit.
  2. Be united and consistent. You and your spouse have to be of one mind. Kids learn too quickly how to divide and conquer their parents. If you’re divorced, do whatever you need to do to reconcile with the other, at least in terms of parenting. And be consistent. Don’t threaten without following through. If you start counting, “1, 2, . . .” make sure you’re willing to say “3” and follow through with your consequences. If they don’t believe you’ll follow through, your threats are useless.
  3. Embrace short-term pain for long-term gain. Disciplining is thinking not just about the specific situation, but how this will affect your child ten years from now. Yes, discipline is hard, inconvenient, and not much fun. But if done right, will shape your child in a way that he’ll be thankful for ten years from now.

QUESTION: What other action steps would you add to this list?

11 Reasons Why Marriage is Worth It

6.7.13A few days ago my local newspaper listed the names of those getting married and those getting divorced. Want to guess the score? 18 marriages, 38 divorces. Too many marriages are ending in divorce. The past two posts I talked about why marriages fail and how to improve your marriage. Today I’m giving you eleven reasons why marriage is worth fighting for.

1. A deeper love than you’ll experience anywhere else. There is an intimacy and transparency that I’ve only been able to find in a marriage. It’s one of the truly deep experiences that all humans should have.

2. You’re truly ‘known’ by someone committed to you. Marriage involves a vulnerability, as you open up your deepest self to someone else. But in this act of knowing and being known, there’s an innate longing fulfilled.

3. Lifelong companionship. If you do marriage right, your spouse will become your best friend. You can’t spend that much quality time together and not become best friends. God created us to live in community. Our spouse is ground zero for that.

4. You have a ‘help’ mate. It’s amazing how opposites seem to attract. My wife and I are perfect examples of that. She helps me where I’m weak, and I help her where she’s weak. She helps me achieve so much more than I could have on my own, and I help her do the same.

5. Spontaneous moments of pure joy. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed with love and joy. Most of the time, it’s in connection with reflecting on the blessings of God through my family. None of that would be possible without my spouse. She’s brought me more joy than anyone else on the planet.

6. Transforms your character. I tell people that my wife has been married three different times to three different people. They’ve just all happened to be me. Marriage is such a catalytic event that it will naturally change you. If done right, marriage will change you for the better.

7. Spiritual growth. Marriage has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a deeper dependence on God. It’s only with his help that I can be the husband and father that I need to be. The daily challenges of marriage have been one of the primary opportunities for me to grow spiritually.

8. Legitimate sexual fulfillment. Think of the gratification of sex without the guilt, without the shame, without the unintended consequences. When expressed in marriage, sexual fulfillment can reach its fullest potential.

9. Gives you a better picture of Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul inextricably links the union of marriage with the union of Christ and the church. To know one is to know the other. As you progress in marriage, you get a better understanding of the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church.

10. Best evangelism tool. Connected to the previous reason, since marriage and Christ are so connected, when you have a strong marriage, it’s an incredibly vivid picture of Christ to the world. A vibrant marriage will always be one of your best evangelism tools to the world.

11. Leaving a healthy legacy for your kids. Studies have consistently shown that kids do better in life when they grow up in an environment with a strong marriage. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a healthy marriage. Give them a better chance at success in life.

QUESTION: What other reasons would you add? What’s the best part about your marriage?

image courtesy of my wife’s Facebook account

Six Traditions That Are Killing the Church (Part 2)

3.11.13Last post I started a three part series on Six (Modern-Day) Traditions That Are Killing the Church. These traditions have nothing to do with style of music, whether the pastor uses a pulpit or round table, or whether the people come dressed in suits or blue jeans. There are great churches on both sides of those divides. These traditions are a little more insidious, a little more difficult to unearth. Here are traditions three and four:

3. Expecting the church to disciple your kids. This used to frustrate me to no end as a youth pastor. A parent would come up, concerned about the lack of spirituality in their child. They didn’t feel confident talking to their kid about the Bible. So they were going to use their 167 hours per week and let their child fill their head with as much worldly influence as possible, then give that child to me for an hour a week and hope that I could completely disciple them. Not gonna happen. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says this, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” The role of discipling your children ultimately belongs to the parents, not the church. Interestingly enough, the epidemic of college students leaving the home and leaving the faith began to track at the same time that parents abdicated their role in the spiritual formation of their children. Coincidence? I think not.

4. Robbing God by not trusting God with God’s money. It took me years to get this right. I’ve been a Christian a majority of my life, yet it took years and years and years to finally trust God enough to begin to tithe faithfully. In Malachi 3:8, God tells Israel, “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings.” Let’s be honest. Most Christians don’t tithe. That may very well include you.

Here’s what I learned after I began to tithe: I don’t tithe because God needs it. God’s not broke. It’s actually all his money anyways. I tithe because I need it. I need to break the power of money in my life. I need to experience the blessings of trusting God with that which is closest to my heart: my pocketbook. This tradition, of Christians thinking it’s okay to rob God, is killing the church today.

QUESTION: What traditions would you add to this list?

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie Davis

12.11.12Kisses from Katie wrecked me. I knew a little bit of her story, so I thought I was prepared to hear her heart-wrenching story of life in a third-world country. I was wrong. If you have a soul inside of you, you cannot encounter stories of poor, neglected and abused children fending for themselves in Uganda and not have your heart ripped out a little bit.

Katie Davis is a 24-year-old who grew up in Brentwood, TN with a life typical of many Christian girls raised in America. Yet she willingly gave up her “good life” to sacrifice herself for the poor and the orphaned living in Jinja, Uganda. Here’s a bit of her story in her own words:

“Slowly but surely I began to realize the truth: I had loved and admired and worshiped Jesus without doing what he said . . . So I quit my life. Originally, my quitting was to be temporary, lasting just one year before I went to college and returned to normal, American teenager life. But after that year, which I spent in Uganda, returning to ‘normal’ wasn’t possible. I had seen what life was about and I could not pretend I didn’t know. So I quit my life again, and for good this time . . . I have a joy and a peace that are unimaginable and can come only from a place better than this earth. I cannot fathom being happier. Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully” (xviii).

This book is her story, her journey from her “normal” American upbringing to moving to Uganda, adopting thirteen precious daughters to raise as her own, and starting a non-profit that is bringing hope and healing to thousands of people. Never intended to be a professionally written narrative or deep theological treatise, Kisses from Katie captures the essence of her journey through story, vignettes of her life that show both the deepest hurts of the human experience and the deepest love of a gracious Heavenly Father.

Through her experiences with third-world disease, poverty, starvation and neglect, the veil of first-world ignorance will be forever ripped from your eyes. In a country (America) where suffering equals only having one fast-food restaurant to choose from, Katie’s real-world experience in Uganda is a sucker punch to the gut. While we’re busy keeping up with the latest elimination from American Idol, millions of precious children are simply fighting to stay alive. Here’s how Katie describes her first conversation with one of her new daughters, five-year-old Joyce, “What struck me most about that first [conversation] with Joyce was what she said to me: ‘Thank you for food, Mommy. Today I am still alive.’ My heart stopped. This little girl, at five years old, is simply thankful to have something to eat so she can stay alive” (87).

Numerous stories like that will rip your heart out with compassion and compel you to do something with the excess that you’ve been blessed with. Through all of the trials that Katie has gone through, she continues to inspire with her unadulterated faith in God: “God teaches me, and Masese (a village she works in) teaches me, this: Resurrection is real. Life is more powerful than death. Light can pierce darkness. I may never see the end of horrendous situations on this earth, so instead of trying to fix the situations here and now, I will focus on helping these people come to heaven with me” (192).

Get this book. Let it inspire you to do something meaningful with your life. To keep up with Katie’s work in real time, check out her blog here.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Real Christianity is more than just church attendance and another Bible study. The end result of our faith is not another church service or more Bible knowledge. It’s loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Katie Davis is a beautiful picture of what it means to live out your faith in its purest form. More than simply attend more church or read another Christian book, Katie decided to live out her faith. How uncommon, yet how life-changing.

2. If you want to touch God’s heart, work with the poor and abused. If you look throughout the Old and New Testament, God continually shows his heart for the poor and oppressed. He constantly calls us as believers to show love to those he loves. If you want to work with those closest to God’s heart, get out of the finely manicured suburbs and go work with the poor and neglected.

3. I’m thankful for those who sacrifice their resources to make a real difference in the world. Katie’s non-profit ministry, Amazima Ministries, works to provide meals, education and many other needs for those who desperately need it. I’m also extremely thankful to be a sponsor for Children of Hope, a ministry helping Haitian refugee children living in the Dominican Republic get an education and a shot at life.

4. Everyone needs to go on an overseas mission trip. If you’ve never experienced life outside of the United States, then you live in a bubble. There is a tremendous world of need out there. There are millions of American Christians who can be the arms and feet of Jesus to a suffering world. But we’ll never know what’s out there until we go. Find a quality mission-sending organization and go overseas. It changed Katie’s life. It changed my life. It will change your life.

5. I want to be a part of a church that meets the needs of the poor and hurting. Who are the lost, the oppressed, the hurting, the neglected in your town? What is your church doing to love them and share the hope of Christ with them?

6. If you never meet Katie Davis in this life, here’s how you can find her in heaven: look for the really huge mansion up on the hill with the best view. Her rewards will be massive in heaven one day. She deserves it. Look for her on Mother Theresa’s street.

 

When You’re Tired of Waiting on God

BIG Idea: When you’re tired of waiting on God, keep waiting.

What do you do when you’re tired of waiting on God? I know you’ve been there before. Perhaps it’s the promotion you’re sure you’ve earned but doesn’t seem to come through. Maybe it’s waiting for a child or grandchild to come back to God. You can’t remember how many times you’ve quoted the Proverb “Raise a child in the way he should go . . .” Maybe it’s waiting for God to bring you a spouse. You’ve done all the right things (mostly). You’ve kept your standards high. You’ve waited. You want to be married more than life itself. And yet, nothing. No one comes along.

What do you do when you know God could answer your prayers in an instant and give you what you think you deserve, and yet he doesn’t? What do you do when you’re tired of waiting on God?

Robin and I experienced the frustrating journey of waiting on God to have children. Even before we were married, we both knew that we wanted kids, lots of them. So after a few years of marriage, we started trying. Nothing. Years went by, nothing. Spent way too much money on fertility specialists, nothing. Got pregnant once, miscarriage. It was brutal. We were convinced that God himself had given us the desire to have kids, and yet he kept the fulfillment of that very promise from us. Everyone around us was having babies. Even teenagers that Robin and I worked with at school and church were having kids. It’s as if the world was mocking us.

Our hope was severely tested, but it never broke. We did all we could do. We kept waiting. A psalm that became my clarion call during this journey was Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” This verse became our beacon, our anchor, the handle we would hold onto when all hope seemed to be slipping away.

We never wavered in our hope that we would one day have children of our own. While we waited, we wanted to be open to adoption as well, something near and dear to both of us. We went through the adoption process, and in 2007 we met a beautiful three month old boy we named Zeke. In 2009, we got to take a gorgeous little boy named Shepherd home from the hospital to live with us. Our lives were full. Reflecting on all that happened to us over the years, Robin and I realized God’s plan. We knew exactly why we didn’t have children of our own the first decade of our marriage: if we had kids of our own, we would have never had the wonderful privilege of parenting Zeke and Shepherd. We love those boys more than life itself. We couldn’t have made better boys if we tried. Those two were the reasons we waited. And we were at peace. We thought we knew God’s plan.

And then, just because God is God and can do whatever he wants, Robin and I recently found out we were pregnant, and a few short months ago gave birth to Linclon Isaac, our first natural born son. And now life is even fuller. God is good. His plan is worth waiting for.

I’m so glad we didn’t give up hope. And as much as we hated waiting, I admit that God knew what he was doing. His way was best. Perhaps it’s the same in your life. If you need an encouragement, it’s this: When you’re tired of waiting on God, keep waiting.

QUESTION: Have you ever had to wait on God for something that you felt he’d promised you?

Children of Hope

If you’ve come to Mt Vernon the past few weeks, you’ve heard about an incredible ministry partnership opportunity. For those of you who haven’t heard, let me share an incredible ministry opportunity we have called Children of Hope. Several years ago, Mt Vernon took a mission trip down to the Dominican Republic. While there, our church saw God open a door for us in the Batey (slums) of Baharona. If you don’t know, Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island. Dominican Republic is poor. Haiti is poorer.

In the slums of Baharona live thousands of Haitian refugees who have fled the poverty and instability of their country for hopes of a better life. Unfortunately, many of them fled illegally, and now they’re stuck. The Dominican Republic won’t do anything for the slum dwellers because they don’t have the proper documentation. Haiti won’t take them back because they don’t have the proper documentation. For all effects and purposes, they’re stuck.

So we partnered with local missionaries in Baharona to build a school for the Haitian children living in the slums. (By school I mean a single cinder-block room with a teacher making $200 a month). For us, it was a small thing. For them, it was life-changing. There are hundreds of children being raised in the slums, with no chance at an education (because lack of proper documentation). So, our school wasn’t merely to give them a better option of education: our school is the only option.

Because of Mt Vernon and the tireless work of the local missionaries, fifty children now have the opportunity to learn how to read and write (in Spanish and English). Their education is an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty in their families. A new church has also started out of the school to minister to the spiritual needs of the children and their families.

Here’s how you plug in: now that the school is built, we’re enlisting 50 families to sponsor the fifty children to help them with the costs associated with school. The cost is $25 dollars a month (one year commitment), and the cost goes to cover school supplies, meals for the students, and salaries for the teachers. If you’d like to partner with us and sponsor a child for a year, please visit: www.sponsorchildrenofhope.com

My boys have a quality education guaranteed for them. Not all children have that guarantee. Children of Hope will make a difference for fifty of them. Below is a short video to show you the faces of the children we’re sponsoring:

Five for Friday

Hey everyone, I hope you’ve had a great week! Here are links to five articles guaranteed to keep you thinking through the weekend. If you’re in Columbus, MS this weekend, come visit us at Mt Vernon!

1. This is the Longest Sermon at Your Church – great article by Jon Acuff. And great reason why you need to go to the 9:00 am service!

2. Have Our Children Forgotten How to Play Outdoors? – great book review and great reason why you should play with your kids outside this weekend.

3. What Rep. Todd Akin Should Have Said About Abortion and Rape – Trevin Wax writes the words Rep. Todd Akin should have said. Solid read.

4. 10 Reasons Why We Need to Get Off Our “Ask” and Invite People to Church – Very true article by Pastor Perry Noble.

5. School Under Fire for Allowing Churches to Feed Football Program – follow up from Wednesday night Conversation. How should we respond?