For Father’s Day: 10 things I Learned This Year About Being a Dad

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Well, it’s about time again, for I think what is my third or fourth Father’s Day post, and for this year, I thought I’d share a few random thoughts about being a dad. And after nineteen years of holding the title, I can honestly say I probably learned more this year than in any other. So, here we go…

  1. It can be so tough and even a little scary to sit down with your wife and kids and talk about God. Usually we read a short passage, or sometimes just one verse, because the attention span around here is about 14 seconds…on our good days. Admitting to how intimidating it can be helped me to be more prepared, and more deliberate in my approach. But for those of you who keep trying and feel like you keep failing…you’re not. You’re the stuff of champions!
  2. If you buy crunchy peanut butter instead of creamy peanut butter, don’t tell your kids, just throw it on their sandwiches and call it a day. Not one kid complained in this house, and, in fact, most of our kids are now on the crunchy side permanently. Amazing.
  3. If you are a dad and you work from home as a writer, you can get about zero work done when the bus drops off the kids. Especially if you have five kids living at home. Shockingly, they all need snacks, help with homework, and your referee skills when they want to throw down. Who would have guessed?
  4. Having a kid in college is a strange adjustment, especially when he’s just an awesome dude. Gone are the days of instruction and accountability, because they’ve been replaced by deep conversations and a stronger connection. Max will tell you I was pretty tough on him at times, and I sometimes had to go up against the always dreaded “okay, but everyone else’s parents let them _____ (fill in the blank).” I’m glad I hung tough, because honestly Max isn’t just ready for college, he’s ready for the world. I’ll take it! And I am so optimistic for the next five.
  5. You cannot tell your kids enough times every day to wash their hands. And WITH SOAP! Always, always SOAP! No. You most certainly cannot preach this enough.
  6. Dads right now are at a tough place in our society, but the clouds are leaving and I truly believe our impact today can be stronger than ever. Our culture/media wants to take over our part in the story of our kids’ lives, by dictating the moralisms of the day. What a super surprise it must be for all of us to realize Zuckerberg, CNN, and The View aren’t actually the gatekeepers of morality in our world. What I have learned, and relearned, is that the Bible is more important than it has ever been, especially with the turmoil we see in America. We tell our kids all the time about having a firm foundation in their lives, and boy, do the scriptures give us a strong foundation.
  7. Most of us dads have experienced some of the same challenges, and we need to continue to be open with each other. Women are a hundred times better at this than us, but it doesn’t mean we can’t pull together. By joining a local church, you can get the most benefit, and really get open and honest about your challenges as a father. By building a good team of other dads you’re connected to, you can not only grow as a father, but you can find more satisfaction in your blessed position.
  8. It has taken me almost a year to perfect the art of the double, and yes, even triple-decker grilled cheese sandwich. Do not rush the process. And make sure the pan is hot before you drop your artwork on it. You can do this. You’re a dad.
  9. Questions! Oh man, it’s just so all about questions sometimes with the kids. Whenever I need to get major buy in and address an issue, I have found the more open ended questions I ask the more quickly we can discover the resolution. For complete buy in, this is huge. And for your sanity, even more so.
  10. Fidget Spinners have zero redeeming qualities, and are the greatest obstacle to your communication with your kids. Yes. Fidget Spinners.

Sure, I could have written on so many other hot topics, but maybe I’ll just share with you one more thought. Your position of being a dad is incredibly important and don’t let anyone ever steal the joy of fatherhood away from you. Ignore those who demean, belittle and mock you as a dad, because honestly, the only reason they do that is because of their failed expectations or insecurities. And if you need some encouragement, check out the movie Courageous from about 3 years ago. And me? Well, I’ll be at the beach with my crunchy peanut butter and with not a single fidget spinner in sight.

Tears in the Coffee Shop

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Writing my way deep into Chapter 17 of the book and there’s this young couple sitting at a table not so far from me in this coffee shop. As Explosions in the Sky streams through my red headphones from Pandora, with barely glancing eyes I noticed her hand moved quickly to wipe away some tears which look like they came before she was ready. Maybe it didn’t matter why she started to cry. Maybe you and I don’t need to assume the reasons, but she did her best to hold back those tears, while people around her chewed on bagels and drank their chocolate raspberry coffee.

 

“Doug!” the young man hollers from  behind the counter. Doug’s egg and bacon wrap is ready, and an older man steps quickly to the counter to pick up his breakfast.

 

I forgot to wear it today. Every Tuesday I sit here in my “God Loves You” shirt, but not today. Just a denim button up was all I had to offer the world in this moment, substituting a message of hope for a little warmer clothing. Still, I could do something, couldn’t I?

 

A thought hits me. I grabbed my iPad and started searching for an image, for something. It’s the first one that popped up on my google search, so I adjusted my display to last as long as possible. With some sudden weird flutters in my stomach, I gently placed my iPad against the back of my laptop, facing the rest of the world around me.

 

An hour later, and after some more random tears, she and the man stood, and with a quick kiss goodbye, he opened the door and was gone. Sitting back down at that table, I caught her glance a few times at my iPad, while I kept my eyes glued as best I could on the throws of my latest work. We all have a story, and whatever her story was, it wasn’t really any of my business, but maybe just a little bit. I could only offer one thing, I could offer three words of encouragement, and three words this world most assuredly needs right now.

 

After about ten more minutes, she gently scooped up her purse, slipped on her coat, glanced one final time my iPad, and she’s gone. Maybe it didn’t mean anything for her, but I remember a time when I clung to those words, when I cried out to God for them to mean something in the tragedy around me. Whether its tears or laughter, I think it’s exactly what we need, and maybe somehow this might have brought a little hope to her today. I know it means something to me. Those three words. Nothing more. Nothing less. And its everything.

 

“God loves you.”

 

A Hopeful Moment in our Country

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It might be the most hopeful time our world has even seen, and we don’t even know it.

When I was a kid the police came to my house to talk to me. I knew why they were there. I was almost expecting to get caught I think. As a kid though, it made sense why I did what I did. As an adult looking back, I deserved what happened and then some!

For those of you who knew me as a kid, you know my world revolved around my bike. I loved my bike, and everything about it. This love began at the age of three when I freaked out an entire neighborhood and jumped on my little blue, metal seated bike and started riding it at top speed around our cul-de-sac. Kids didn’t wear helmets back then, and if anybody should have, it should have been me.

When I was four my parents bought me a red huffy BMX, banana seat and all. What a difference the giant, cushiony seat made! A few years later, I got a more streamlined seat and painted my bike black. A few years after that I got a Diamond Back, and then my favorite bike, a lightweight Mongoose racing bike. Not a kid in the neighborhood could beat me in a street race. I rode half pipes and jumped through the air with the greatest of ease. That love of jumping my bike to the highest of heights, however, was about to get me in a whole lot of trouble.

All around our neighborhood was new housing construction, with piles of wood and materials all over the lots. From my perspective, as a kid, it didn’t matter if I took some pieces of wood and built some jumps with it. I didn’t see it as stealing. Honestly, I never viewed it as anything but through the eyes of a kid whose priority is to fly off of jumps. Everybody had the same priority, right?

I wasn’t sneaky about it. Actually, if memory serves, I’m pretty sure I took the wood while men were there working on the houses. I wasn’t being discreet at all. I was only interested in building a massive ramp.

And that’s when the police came, and they didn’t look so pleased. I was about fourteen at the time, and the officer stood about eight feet tall and had a flat top. I’m not sure if he would look less mean without the flat top, but it definitely enhanced the moment. He pointed to the wood I was building my ramps with and said they wanted the wood returned and, “They won’t press charges.”

It took me seconds to get up, load up our wheelbarrow and head down the street. After a few trips I was done, and both the officer and the construction guys seemed satisfied. My mom took me to the lumber yard nearby and helped me use my lawn mowing savings to legally obtain my much desired wood. In less than an hour, I was back to building my ramps.

From the perspective of a fourteen year old boy, the most important thing is to build ramps so ours bikes can fly through the air. To the owner of the construction company, the most important thing was to protect his assets. To the police officer, the most important thing was to find out who stole the wood.

My perspective has dramatically changed as I’ve matured and gone through different stages of life. Before I was divorced, I was probably one of the roughest and most legalistic people you would meet, especially towards other men who were heading towards a divorce. In my shame I can say I always blamed the guy, because aren’t you supposed to be the spiritual leader of your family? I repeated things I heard, sometimes from folks who meant well, but didn’t always love well. I didn’t understand the pain divorced folks can go through and how much it can hurt. I always said “it takes two to tango.” I shouldn’t have said that. It was insincere and showed a complete lack of depth and understanding. God allowed me to endure such pain for my betterment, and for the betterment of those I love and cherish the most. He also allowed me to endure it so I could be a true light to others, no matter who they were and what they’ve gone through.

Perspective. Even in a time like this in our country mine is quite hopeful. It isn’t hopeful because of what I’ve done, but because of what Jesus did. It’s hopeful because of how I am seeing God work in the lives of my friends and family members. I’m hopeful because I know right now God is doing something that may seem so small in one of the lives of my friends (maybe you!) and it’s going to blossom into something brilliant and beautiful.

It has never been a more important time for us to have the right perspective, and the right perspective begins with knowing that we have a Savior named Jesus who “makes all things new” and he does this for everyone who asks. Including me. And including you. If this is your perspective, and I hope it is, we need your voice now more than ever. The world needs you to speak up and to offer them something they might not be getting anywhere else. If we don’t do this, who will?

What bring me the most hope is that God is always working in us, and building something in and around us. When we screw up or face a difficult trial, we can lose sight of the work he is doing, but it’s often in these moments he is doing the most. Isn’t it true that when we look back on times like this, God was working all along and did something unbelievable? Our country is in an interesting position right now, looking at one of two potential leaders who most Americans don’t like. We learn from the scriptures and from our lives it’s in moments like this when God is doing the most and getting to make something pretty big happen. I can’t wait to see what the Lord will do here in America. It is going to be an amazing year!

For the Dads Out There

FullSizeRender (21)It’s a little awkward, isn’t it? Sometimes being a father is just a little weird, and man, I’m telling you it can be uncomfortable. Raising 2 girls and 4 boys has its share of challenges, and that’s putting it about as laid back as I can. But to be real honest about this, there’s an elephant in the room, isn’t there dad’s? When it comes to our role as father’s we have a war going on, and it’s a war of the scriptures versus the culture. Do you think I’m being a little fanatical here? Let me provide some proof.

The bible says the following in Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Let’s just be real clear. You are definitely NOT provoking your children to anger when you punish them for violating your rules or the scriptures in the house. But what provoking your children to anger IS being wishy washy, having ZERO backbone (which equals zero leadership when they need you), and blowing off your God-given responsibilities. Turning your head the other way and ignoring the direct sin (including the movies, music, and maybe even porn) that you come across in your home doesn’t make you hip or cool, it makes weak, and that’s putting it nicely. Trust me. In fact, if you ignore porn especially it’s quite likely your kids will eventually hold you in the same contempt as the porn addiction they now will have to struggle with for the rest of their lives.

But when you are consistent in your approach to your children’s lives, you provide them with safety, peace, and boundaries that will encourage their spiritual and relational growth for the rest of their lives. You cultivate their soul, not their earthly desires. In our culture today, I am quite confident many of my closest friends and myself would be considered controlling and some would even say my approach provokes anger, but I disagree. True, my kids are not always so pleased with our rules or my leadership, but it’s not their job to establish the culture of our home. Their role is to honor my wife and myself, and each other. What’s most important, and maybe what I succeed and also fail at the most, is instructing our through God’s Word.

If you listen to the media, the latest crazes in parenting, and what our culture tells us about being a dad, you would be lost in a haze of confusion and frustration. The Bible, however, not only gives us guidelines from God Himself on living this life, it also provides us with the path we need to journey down with our kids. Through the scriptures, we can grow as men and as dads.

Earlier I mentioned I have failed here, and boy have I ever! It is soooo tough sometimes to teach the kids from God’s word. One kid might be totally focused on fighting with their sibling, while another might be trying everything possible to be a distraction. Another kid might be egging them both on the whole time, and that’s a lot of time the way it goes. I have learned, however, to keep going. I have learned to tell them to hush, and I may tell them five hundred times to be quiet, and sometimes to sit on their hands since they can’t keep their hands to themselves. Sometimes the speed of the day gets the best of me, and I do absolutely nothing to encourage their growth. Some days I’m like a referee running around blowing my whistle. Other days I work more like a bouncer trying to break up fights, and almost every day, I am a highly skilled negotiator of sugar allowances, bedtimes, highly volatile disputes over balls, video game units, and am a tenacious interrogator, especially when deciphering who started that whole crazy mess I’m staring at.

Breathe. It’s all going to be okay. I promise. Hey, do you ever see it in the stars? That’s where I can see it. I see God’s love for us, when I gaze into the night sky at his glorious handiwork. I see all of the weirdness and dumb stuff I’ve done too, but I look up and maybe understand a little more about him and his pure love for me. I remember his clear instruction and that his word is the breath of his love. In many ways, this understanding helps me to see our children in a different light, and it encourages my role as their earthly Father.

Today I went into each kid’s room and prayed out loud individually for their day and for their lives. It took me about ten minutes, including the time I spent praying for my wife and myself, too. I asked each kid to be protected from the discouragement and attacks of the enemy, and for the Lord to bless them greatly and encourage them today. It was simple, but it’s what we need around here. I’m still learning, and I bet are too.

Dads. We’ve got to do this our way. God’s way. Not the way our society tells us to do this thing, but we need to dig into the scriptures, get very real, and lead our families. If we don’t lead them, someone else will, and you will have a whole lot more to pray about if it’s the wrong person. Trust me on that. You can do this, though. God will help you. It will take courage and tenacity. It’s worth it. I promise you it’s worth it. I’ll be praying for you, my fellow fathers. The Lord will help us. Message me if I can be of encouragement or help to you, and God bless you on your remarkable journey.

The Classic Kid Meltdown

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It was classic kid meltdown mode. You’ve all seen it. We’ve all been involved in this in one way or another. Maybe it wasn’t even your kid. Maybe you were having a lovely, romantic dinner when suddenly at the next table over, someone didn’t like the looks of their kids pasta meal, and all bets were off.

Maybe it wasn’t the kid meltdown. Maybe it was what was going on in your head while you were in line at the grocery store, as the brand-new-and-completely-unaware-of-your-busy-schedule cashier couldn’t figure out the code for the Brazilian Cucumbers the little old lady in front of you desperately wants. Maybe it was when the driver in front of you believed the speed limit actually means “the speed limit” on this crazy little two lane road in the middle of nowhere and you’re late for a meeting, but it just doesn’t matter to Mr. Slow Poke in front of you. Maybe it was when the phone rang and it’s “her” again and you have to pick up, don’t want to pick up, but you know what might happen if you don’t.

Life is full of deep breaths, isn’t it? Life is chock full of those moments when  everything seems to be going crazy, your anxiety spikes to new levels, and suddenly, it all hits you. Like a ton of bricks, it all just hits you, and everything changes.

I had a moment like this today. I truly did, and I bet I have them more than you think. You probably think I’m this positive motivating guy who’s raising six kids with the girl of his dreams, and that’s sort of right, but there’s a lot more of that onion to peel, and you might be surprised what you find as you get down the core. I bet you’re the same way, aren’t you?

Do you know that warm feeling you get sometimes and you’re just kind of uncomfortable and you want to run as fast as you can and with all of your clothes on abandon your good senses and go jump in a pool? The kind of feeling that makes the ice bucket challenge seem like it’s not such a bad thing? I get that every now and then, and when I do, I know what matters most is how I respond in those moments.

I was in the middle of this “feeling” and I turned around and noticed something. We have a small chalkboard near our front door, the one a neighbor helped me put up. I wanted it there so we could have a weekly verse there for the family to look at as we come and go through our lives. Honestly, I haven’t been very consistent putting up a new verse very often, but today I did. I looked at the board and the first verse that came to mind was John 14:6 –

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through me.”

I wrote the verse quickly on the chalkboard, and I suddenly it hit and I just stood there. Jesus. Deep breath. Jesus. Sometimes I forget how he changes me, and how he helps me put all of this in perspective. How he helps me feel assured in his grace, and offers it lavishly to ornery kids, new cashiers, and slow drivers. How he makes me feel like this life has a little more purpose than me being perfect right now, and how he shows me my true purpose is knowing, loving and living this life for him.

He offers me something new. He offers me something good. He changes me and makes me a “new creation” and “molds me in his image”. And he shows me in all of these moments, if I turn my focus away from this “thing” and towards him, everything changes. As an eternal and beloved son of God the Father, that makes sense to me.

Eternal. Beloved. Son or daughter. Of the King of Creation, and the Savior of all of Mankind. This is who we are beloved, and this life is so much more than the moment we are in.

Abuse, Divorce and the Church

cropped-12523879_10209247405206058_3651820469200974904_n.jpgIt wasn’t a triumph. It wasn’t a victory. Nobody wins here. Ever. But I walked out knowing I had honored God’s plan for my life, and done so according to his word.

In the Spring of 2014 I sat for over two hours with the top leaders of my church detailing what had happened to my marriage and how divorce was now imminent. It was an arduous and tragic discussion. Minds were already made up, no matter the scriptural text, context, or even my personal study of the translation from the Greek itself. Nothing I said justified my decisions. It was simply pointless.

Recently, I was contacted by a friend who shared how abuse within their marriage had become so destructive they just couldn’t take anymore. I was shocked, heartbroken and saddened, to say the least. I understand, though. I truly do, because there are so many more of you out there going through something like this than we all realize.

My therapist once told me divorce is like experiencing a death, and I think it’s the best example I can provide. If you haven’t been divorced, you truly don’t understand. I say this because I had no clue for so many years. To claim you understand is egotistical at minimum. Sure, you can practice empathy, and for years I ministered to and tried to empathize with men going through divorce, but I never understood how tragically painful it could be. I should have tried harder. I should have listened more and preached less.

I want to be very clear about something. If you are being abused, you need to get away from the person abusing you asap. Whether it is physical, emotional, or verbal, Jesus does not want you to sit there and take it. He doesn’t want you to “turn the other cheek” and to let this continue. In fact, the lack of contextual understanding of ministers today misusing this scripture and countless others is confounding. If your spouse is so far gone in your marriage to depart from you as a human being, to the point of trying to destroy you, you need to run for the hills and get help. God absolutely does not want you to submit to any type of abuse at any point in your marriage. Ever.

I have heard countless arguments, and studied the papers of John Piper and read through the opinions and doctrine of so many other Christian leaders. I have listened and watched as Matt Chandler and The Village Church quite publicly put Karen Hinckley (formerly Root) under church discipline a few tears ago for divorcing her child porn addicted husband. Yes, they apologized and tried to address the situation, but the damage was done, and Karen was long gone. She went to a church who would support her and love her as Jesus would. Instead of being quick to listen and quick to love, the elders of Village Church were quick to speak and quick to condemn.

I love Matt Chandler. He actually had the strength and guts to apologize for his actions, and not only to Karen, but to his entire congregation. It was a beautiful thing. Yes, there was a whirlwind of criticism surrounding their decision to discipline Ms. Hinckley, and it’s incredibly sad if this was the main mitigating factor in the apology. We shouldn’t have to hear from a larger group that scares us to do the right thing. We should stand up for love, justice and the gospel of Jesus the first chance we get.

There are many popular catch phrases out there alive and well in the Christian community, but don’t drink the catch phrase Kool Aid. Study the scriptures themselves, and see the love and embrace of God himself if you endure such a horrible thing as abuse within a marriage. Ignore those who overwhelm you with their preaching and attempts to coerce and manipulate you into doing what makes them the most comfortable. Too often, those people already have a legacy of destruction of lives in their wake. Sadly, this has been my experience, too.

I want to be incredibly clear – if you are being abused and divorcing your spouse, you need the church of Jesus to love you, not to tear you down and add to the chaos and brokenness you have experienced. This decision is a decision first between you and God, and then you can look to others who love Jesus for support and encouragement. In many cases, divorce is not the answer at all. But when your life is in danger, and you are out of money and need protection, like so many do, then pray and ask God to help lead you down His best path for you. He will not fail you!

One more thing, the one piece of counsel I could honestly share with my friend was about my journaling. I survived much of the early days in my divorce by creating a Forty Days of Thankfulness Journal. Every day I found one thing to be thankful for and praised God for it. Sometimes it was a sentence or two about the wind, and three paragraphs on my frustrations. Regardless of what I faced, every day I discovered something to be thankful for. I still read those journals, and they encourage me even today. God has a way of using our toughest days and finding the beauty and grace within them. He is a good God. He loves you, and he created you for a special love from him. I hope you know that. And I  hope you are filled with courage and God’s peace no matter what you are facing. You are loved.

Good-Bye and Have Courage

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I am saying good-bye to two of my kids pretty soon. Max is 18 on his way to college, and Kaitlin, 17, is off for the summer to serve God by ministering to the Bahamian Children through Camp Bahamas. Max is leaving in August, and Kaitlin flies off at the end of June (check out her page if you haven’t had a chance https://www.gofundme.com/2e4h8vpm). This is the first time they will truly be on their own, and I want them to experience this life and the world around them. I am not hoping for some safe and passive existence, but one mirroring men like David in the Bible.

You all know the story, don’t you? The story of David and Goliath, the story of the monster and the boy? In I Samuel 17, Goliath, in full armor, is standing before David.  David, with his faith in God, is now in a all-out-dead-sprint to stand toe-to-toe with the scariest dude on the planet. And you know the rest of the story, right? David whips the stone, it sinks into Goliath’s head, and the monster dies. David stands victorious and David praises God for what he has done.

I want my kids to be in the mold of David. I do not want a bunch of scared wimps. David was faithful and strong and fiercely tenacious in his belief that God would give him victory in the fight. Goliath, as big and strong as he was, believed merely in himself and his own strength, and counted on his own power. It’s not so much, is it? Our power? Our own strength? With God all things are possible, but on our own, it’s just never quite the same.

My kids will face opposition, just as I have faced opposition. They will stand before the giants of this world, whether they like it or not. And they will either cower to anxiety, fear and stress, or they will trust in God and what he is going to do. I will not be there to help them, because that’s just not what God wants from me anymore. He wants me to pray, but for the most part my job here is about done. There comes a time in every child’s life where they will have to figure out this life for themselves, and make a final decision for what they will truly stand for in this world. My time with them is in twilight. Their time has now come, and I believe they will find their courage, just as David did, and stand up to the giants of this world. If they won’t, who will? If you won’t, who will?