3 Months In and I’m Messing Up My Kid!

If you’re anything like me, there are days when you look into the eyes of your precious bundle of joy and wonder, “Am I screwing you up permanently?” Sure, your question may sound a little different, but we’ve all had the thought as parents. I have had that thought often as I have discovered the one song that can calm my little girl down 99% of the time… which happens to be “Echame La Culpa” a Latin Pop single that currently in the top 20 of the Global charts. And in those moments when she is peaceful as the Latin rhythm, is ramping up into the hook I wonder, “Am I screwing you up?”

The short answer is probably not. Children are human beings, too, equipped with the ability to make choices that determine their own outcomes. Even the “best” parents have had their moments of conflict, indecision, and worry when their children make poor decisions. We can relax though, and lean into God’s grace and care. And pray really, really hard that God takes care of them.

See, in the time of Abraham, children were considered property until adulthood, when boys would become self-determining men… and women would still fight against being called property. (Not God’s design, but man’s.) Abraham would have expected Isaac (and Ishmael for that matter) to be under his sole authority and molding. God quickly disillusioned Abraham of that by allowing Ishmael to be sent away and asking for Isaac’s sacrifice. Suddenly, Abraham was faced with the reality that his children didn’t belong to him, but to God, their Creator. Suddenly, there was a bigger plan and much larger picture that Abraham was forced to look at and realize that God would have to work to accomplish it. And, I think, Abraham was better for facing that reality.

And if you read the Prophets, you realize that even God faces the reality that His children make poor decisions and have to face the consequences of them. Even through constant warnings and calls, Israel and Judah both chose to face the rod of Assyria and Babylon rather than turn back and choose to repent. We can find hope and empathy in God when we face those moments, too.

Parenting isn’t about winning a prize or raising the next Pulitzer winner or President. Parenting is an exercise in discipling a young life. A disciple is someone who is consistently moving towards Jesus – becoming more like Him. And if we can raise a child who becomes more like Jesus every day, that’s a win. It may not lead to the highest salary, or the greatest awards or accolades, but it will lead to a child growing into someone who becomes more like Jesus and calls others to do the same.

Cut yourself some slack. God is with you. Do what you can and let God handle the rest. You’re doing well. Be at peace.

What parts of your child’s development worry you most? When do you wonder if you’re “screwing your kids up?” What Bible passage gives you the peace and hope you need to continue each day? What’s the one thing you hope your child will have when they become an adult?

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Christmas Is Coming…

Advent has begun.

As I write this, it is mid-November, and I have been listening to Christmas music for half a month now. This year our church has decided to be a little more low-key about the Christmas season. Our huge Bethelehem Walk is on a break, so for this year I get to savor Christmas. I’ve also had two cups of coffee in quick succession this morning, so I’m pretty excited about life!

The original advent lasted hundreds of years, and not just a month before Christmas. The Jewish people were resting all of their hopes on God’s promises of freedom and an end to the exile. Sure, the physical exile was over, Jews once again lived in Judea and Galilee, and there was a Jewish king on the throne and a high priest in the Temple. But things weren’t right… all the way. The king wasn’t from David’s line. The high priests were a wealthy family who had a hand in politics. Oh, and Rome had its grubby little (well, not so little) paws all over the territory. Rome had a special interest in this region of the world because of Egypt and the surrounding area’s ability to grow wheat to feed a gigantic empire. There was peace on earth and goodwill toward men… so long as you stayed in line, were actually a man, not a slave, and had the coveted status of Roman citizen. So, maybe the Pax Romana had a few caveats…

The Jewish people languished under Roman rule. What did it even mean to be Jewish under Roman rule? How long would God wait to overthrow the Romans and reestablish His Kingdom on earth? Hadn’t the seventy sevens been completed? Hadn’t the time arrived for the anointed one to appear, who would lead Israel to freedom and power, and create a new world where the nations fell under God’s generous rule? Maybe if they followed the rules even more strictly, something would happen. Maybe if they created monastic, apocalyptic communities to purify themselves, something would happen. Maybe if they prayed enough, or sacrificed enough, or were faithful enough, something would happen. But all they could hear was the deafening silence…

One young lady, though, received a visit. She was told to not fear, to find joy in the favor God had given her. She was given an opportunity. And, unlike many of the men of Scripture, she asked one question, and accepted her mission. What was that mission? She was to carry the Son of God. She was to give birth and raise a child who would grow up to be both king and high priest, who would represent Israel in Himself, who would shoulder the burden of the curse of the Law in order to break its power. This child would be God with His people – a more concrete presence than Israel had ever experienced, a walking, talking Temple.

Last year at this time, I was waiting with broken heart to hear two words, “I’m pregnant.” I, too, was anticipating a child, but one who hadn’t been promised. I was heartbroken, feeling exiled myself. I wondered what I needed to do to get God’s attention. I knew where God was, though, present with me as He has always been with His people. He sat with me as I wept, angrily pleaded, and finally accepted my situation. He listened, and let me continue waiting. What are you waiting for? What has you feeling exiled, broken, oppressed?

This year, though, is full of joyful expectation as I look forward to celebrating my little girl’s first Christmas. Don’t read into this that God always grants our requests. Read into it that I had hope over three years of trying and waiting. And my hope did not disappoint. Hope and trust are our greatest gifts, our greatest tools for dealing with the difficult times of life.

We must, like the 1st Century Jewish people, continue to hope against despair. We must stare into the face of the oppressive forces of this world with hope and trust in God firmly in our hearts, minds and hands. We must work and carry on, and day, one hour, one step at a time.

I encourage you to find time this Advent to stop and rest in God’s peace. This time of year can be a struggle, but look for the peace. Look for the moments of quiet anticipation. Maintain hope. Maybe, like Mary, you too can carry Jesus with you through this season.

Do your Christmas plans make time for calm, stillness, and peace? How does your family’s holiday schedule form your child’s priorities?

Thanksgiving is coming! Grab the flak jackets!

I’m weird.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: I have about three news podcasts that I listen to on a daily basis – two American and one UK source for a worldwide perspective. I usually listen to these in the morning, and sometimes my little girl gets to listen along and we’ll have some discussions about what’s going on in the world. And by discussions I mean I try and simplify the topic at hand in such a way that a newborn can grasp. (For real, though, we all know she’s just getting language training at this point by learning speech patterns and the basics of English.) Anyway, one of these podcasts had an interview with a Senator I have a hard time understanding. (Nope, not gonna name names, or give that much info about it. Read into it what you like.) I looked down at the precious eyes of my baby girl and said, “And what we’re doing now is listening to someone we don’t completely agree with because that’s the kind of people we are.” And I sure do hope I model that behavior as much as I preach it.

That most American of holidays is approaching – Thanksgiving. We’re all already dreaming of turkey, ham, potatoes, sides, rolls, desserts, and the millions of pounds of butter that will be used over the course of that week. (What? You don’t celebrate for a whole week? Then I guess you aren’t very grateful, are you?) I also know that many people dread this holiday as a time when speech must be very guarded or arguments will explode. The only blessing I have for you is this: may your conversations have more civility than social media. I worry about how family gatherings or other physical social meetings may change in this culture of outrage, perpetual anger, and general frustration. I know I’ve found myself on more than one occasion keeping my trap shut to avoid any conflict. Instead, I listen. I try to hear what the other person is saying, to stop and really consider the words, their motivation, source, heart. Learning is one of my hobbies, and listening is the best way to learn, in my opinion.

I also enjoy having misconceptions busted. Sure, it’s jarring, but there’s a sense of fun and adventure when confronted by the truth. (And it bothers me that the word and concept of truth have become such a contentious issue.) I love the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. So I listen. I try hard to listen without judgment or creating my counter-argument. I may learn something and be able to better understand a topic, or at the very least the other side’s view.

This season throws us all into a lot of situations with people we may disagree with on a theological, political, philosophical, culinary, or some other basis. We should be willing to sit, break bread, and experience them. The experience may be joyful, or painful, but either way, be present – be welcoming.

When do you model acceptance of others, even without agreeing with them, to your kids? How do your family gatherings look: are they places of peace and active love, or are they places of anger and dissension? What steps could you take to prepare yourself to be better able to listen and welcome?

Everything is Terrible and My Life Is A Mess!

I’ve been dealing with stress on a large scale lately. Nothing life-threatening, but there are days I stare at my computer screen or to-do list and wonder who’s going to do all of this. The frustrating thought that occurs after these staring sessions is that, yes, I have to get them done.

I’ve gotten some encouragement lately, though, from some unlikely sources. See, Abraham was homeless. Moses changed careers 2 times. Ruth had to date again after her first marriage. Job lost everything. Jesus only lived until age 33, well, the first time, anyway.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “That’s not encouraging. Those are all terrible things to have to deal with!” You’d be right. They are pretty terrible. Then again, consider the hope that acknowledging God brings. All of those people found themselves smack dab in the middle of God’s grace and mercy. Each found God’s faithfulness in the midst of their darkest moments.

No matter what we face, God’s faithfulness doesn’t run out. Even the Israelites, who were told flat out that they would run after idols and selfishness and turn their backs on God were promised that after their hearts broke, they could turn back to God and He would restore them into something even greater than before – a people who would have God’s law written on their hearts.

So when you’ve done the millionth load of laundry, or when you’re facing down an Everest-sized to-do list, or you’ve come face to face with one more person demanding your attention and patience, remember that God’s faithfulness doesn’t run out. Remember that stress will pass – if we hand it over to God. Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you. Don’t be anxious about anything, pray about everything. The King is on His throne, and is ready to grant peace.

Take a moment today to pray over the small things. Pray with your family. Ask for peace. Ask for grace and patience. Model to your kids what it looks like to seek after God, even when you don’t feel like you have time.

Peace in the Family?

I’ve been thinking a lot about child-parent relationships lately – mainly because I’m already trying to develop one with my own little girl. (A few months left before a face-to-face visit, but I’m already making sure to spend time with her nearly every night, talking to her, playing her music, and giving her some rubs. My wife’s not sure how to feel about the whole thing, but she’s being a good sport while I talk to her tummy.)

Not only has my own child’s impending birth got me thinking, but a passage in Romans got me thinking as well. See, Paul and I used to never get along. Growing up, my understanding of Paul was limited – I saw him as an angry grump who decided to switch to a Greek mindset once the Jewish community had ousted him enough times. I saw his trips to the synagogues in each town as more of a “let’s get this over with” deal. And because of that, the way I read his work was through a primarily Greek mindset – using philosophies built on Plato and Aristotle via the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. Recently, though, I have had a rather profound “duh” moment when I had an author (NT Wright) point out that Paul remained strikingly Jewish throughout his life and writings. Suddenly, I realized I need more insight into that line of thinking, and so I undertook a journey through the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and began listening to Rabbis to get a better grasp of how Jews view the Torah. And, fellow Christians, we’ve been missing so much!

Anyway, back to Paul, in chapter 5, he speaks about how we now have peace with God – a relationship… a parent-child relationship. In the previous chapter, he talked about how faith is the basis of Covenant membership now and how Abraham had been given covenant membership before his circumcision and the giving of the law. So now, the whole world is eligible for covenant membership based on faith – in trusting God who sent Jesus and raised him from the dead. And on that basis of being called “in the right” we have peace with God, a reconciled relationship.

The idea of reconciliation of family is a theme that runs deep in Jewish thought, and especially the Torah and Prophets. In Genesis, we see four sets of brothers, who become increasingly reconciled, but never reach the point of complete peace: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. Joseph and his brothers come the closest, but his brothers still remain on edge in case Joseph decides to revoke his kindness and pay them back. The Prophets continually use the metaphor of family reconciliation to talk about the time when God will forgive the idolatry of His people and heal the relationship between them. Both of these threads tie up nicely in the person of Jesus who made that peace possible through his own faithfulness in Israel’s place.

Sigmund Freud’s lesser known theories include one that the source of all conflict is sibling rivalry – that each child is vying for resources, particularly parental love and affection. Children may perceive parental love as a limited resource, rather than the unceasing fountain that it often is.

As I’ve wondered, I reach this point: how will I make sure my children understand that love will never run out? How do I give them each the affection they need to keep them convinced of their status of peace in the family?

How does your love model God’s to your kids? How do your priorities show your kids that love?

Words You Can’t Take Back

There has been so much bile and venom spit during this election, I’m kind of hoping that everyone has run out for the next decade. That’s probably a lot to hope for, but I did want to say a few words on Election Day.

Remember, once everything is over, we will all have one president. We’re called to be a people who pray for the leaders of this country. And, honestly, I’m not sure most Christians have taken that to heart the past 8 years. Either way, a little under half of the country will have to eat their words with some roast crow and humble pie for dessert.

Once the election is over, we’ll need to reconcile. We’ll need to apologize. We’ll need to work all the harder to make sure that we stay “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Let’s work for justice, let’s protect liberty – all of it, yours and the other persons you don’t agree with.

Pray for this country, its leaders, and its people. Pray for peace, for justice, for unity. And then, most importantly, be a peacemaker, a seeker of righteousness, and a force for unity.

(And remember, your kids will hear what you shout at the TV tonight.)

Photo Credit: Election 2016 | by DonkeyHotey Election 2016 | by DonkeyHotey vi Flickr

How Marvel’s Civil War can teach us to talk about race

With a lofty title like that, you’d think I would at least have some kind of real credentials for this sort of thing – a degree in race history, history, or social psychology. Nope. I’m a white guy with glasses, a laptop, and a mug of funny-sounding tea beside him. (It’s Numi Chocolate Pu-Erh for those that are curious. Rich, flavorful, and energizing.)

Anyway, so I never really put up any kind of review of Marvel’s Civil War, which my wife and I saw, in costume, as a female Captain America and Tony Stark, respectively. We both enjoyed the movie, though we still hold to the sides we went in supporting. I supported Tony Stark (Iron Man) in his push for more supervision of superheroes, while my wife supported Captain America and his push for continued liberty in the way superheroes could and should respond to situations. Both sides had pros and cons, and, in the end, side is irrelevant. The main thrust of the movie is depicting what happens when two sides draw a hard line in the sand and begin shouting at the other side, “no, you move.” Both sides care about people, about individuals. Both sides are legitimately trying to find the best way to do what they believe is right. Both sides make painful mistakes by responding emotionally and irrationally, despite peaceful solutions being within their reach.

And here’s where we start talking about Dallas, Baton Rouge, and every other racial problem we have going on in this country right now. At this point it would be naive to refuse to recognize that there is still inequality and that there are issues inherent in the system. As a white guy, I have to come to grips with the fact that the system is weighted in my favor.

I read a piece on the Slate website that discusses how we could better address the race issue. (Click here to read.)

Saletan, in this article, describes a bait-and-switch situation into which we are all seemingly falling. Much like Stark and Captain America in the film, the general population is assuming that there are only two groups at play here. Yes, we would be amiss to not rightfully point out that there are tensions between blacks and whites but we also need to understand that the grand majority in both parties would much prefer a peaceful, fair, just solution to the problems at hand than more violence. There are also groups who claim membership on both sides who enjoy violence and want things to come to a head in a confrontation for the ages. Much like the agent of division in Civil War, these groups want to see someone destroyed and division is often the greatest weapon.

After the Dallas tragedy this weekend, I watched as people began pulling into groups, one side for and another side against the police. Can we all agree, that policemen, in general, are trying to do the right thing? And can we all admit that there are a worrying number of bad apples in the bunch who ruin the character of the whole, and that there are some rectifiable training and systemic issues that create problems?

But, on the other hand, can we also support peaceful protest for change while understanding that there are those seeking to cause trouble that can initiate violence on that side prompting action from law enforcement?

Basically, both sides contain real, breathing, feeling, dreaming human beings. We all make mistakes and can all make great strides toward making a better world for everyone. We can grieve for both sides at the loss of life. We can be angry with both sides at the problems we have all created over years of complacency. We can give support to both sides without compromising who we are as people, as believers, as God’s people who strive to heal this world.

I have also been warmed by the outpouring of love on the ground for those families who have lost loved ones this week. We should all watch for those opportunities to seek after healing, forgiveness, and, importantly, building a better world for tomorrow.

The ending of Civil War leaves the viewer with an uncomfortable tension. There is no resolution. Relationships are not healed in any meaningful way. Each individual now carries with them the memory of conflict, of felt betrayal. One character, though, extends an olive branch, giving a ray of hope to the broken Avengers. This olive branch is a cell phone, and the giver offers his help in a time of need. The phone isn’t used right then, but we’re left with a hope, however small, that healing is possible. I have to hold that same hope for America right now. The phone is sitting there waiting for someone to call, to ask forgiveness and start the process of healing, rebuilding. Maybe we’re not ready for that kind of honesty, yet. So we wait, fitfully, for that day.

How have you talked about this past week’s events with your family? Have your kids asked questions about why there’s so much violence? How have you responded? How do your children hear you discuss issues of race, violence, and conflict? Do they know which side you’ve chosen?