“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?”

photo

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!

*

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?

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?

A Good Kind of Tired

4.7.14As you drag into Monday, I know you’re tired, but is it a good kind of tired? Was your weekend energy spent on partying, video games, too much tv and too much alcohol? That’s not a good kind of tired. That’s a weekend of wasted opportunities mixed in with a dash of regret. Here’s a good kind of tired: spending your weekend doing something beneficial for someone else.

This past weekend we wore our church out, but it was a good kind of tired. We hosted our third annual Joy Prom, where our high school students throw a prom for the special needs community in our area. People drove in from three states to be here this year. It was an all week event getting ready, and many were up late Saturday night putting everything back together after the last dance ended.

There were countless hours and dollars devoted to this one event, to give a night of joy to an often overlooked group in our community. But here’s what’s amazing: our people loved it. They served with a smile on their face. They sacrificed their time and energy willingly. Sure, we were dragging a little Sunday morning. But we were a good kind of tired.

Growing up, a good weekend consisted of hanging out with my friends and finding ways to entertain myself. Looking back on this last weekend, I didn’t get to do much for me. We brought our baby girl home from the hospital on Saturday morning, I took my older two to an airshow in town, came back and got dressed for Joy Prom, and stayed up late Saturday helping clean the church.

Today I’ll be honest. I’m tired. But it’s a good kind of tired. It’s a weekend I’d do again in a heartbeat. Are you a good kind of tired today?

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!

A Simple (Not Easy) Way to Eliminate 85% of Marriage Fights

6.3.13I’m speaking as a husband, married for eleven years. I’m speaking as a pastor who’s seen and counseled scores of marriages; some that made it, some that didn’t. The only complaint I get about the percentage is that it’s too low.

Here’s the simple (but not easy) way to eliminate 85% of marriage fights: take care of your money issues. That’s it. If you’re married, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The number one thing that couples fight about is money, plain and simple. There’s not enough money. There’s too much debt. You’re upside down on a mortgage. One of you is the spender and won’t stop spending. You’ve adopted a lifestyle that you can’t afford. That leads to fights, fights and more fights.

If you trace the arguments, the pain, the hateful words, it will overwhelmingly come back to purchases you couldn’t afford, trips you can’t take because there’s no money, or overall stress caused by bills that you can’t pay. Is it any wonder that the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10)?

The solution is simple, but it’s not easy. Get out of debt. Stop spending. Stick to a budget. Adopt a lifestyle you can afford. Create financial margin. Painful, I know. But the benefit to your marriage will more than make up for it.

QUESTION: What do you think? Is 85% too high or too low?

image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net