Unplanned Fathering

In 2014 the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org) reported that 26% of American kids grow up without a father in the home. This year that number is reportedly up to as high as 33 %. That means that if my kids were average American kids one of my children would be living somewhere else without my day to day influence and guidance in their life. The absence of a parent of either gender brings great challenges to the overall development of a child in every way. If it takes two people to make a baby it takes at least two to raise that baby to become all she/he can potentially be.  Fathers matter for more than their initial donation. They are needed as providers, protectors, and patient advocates as well as counselors, coaches, and cheerleaders of their children. Fathering matters to children and not just on Father’s Day.

Fathers that are absent from their children’s lives are not only hurting their children, but they are hurting society. A kid without a father in their home are four times more likely to live in poverty. They are seven times more likely to become teenage parents. They are twice as likely to drop out of high school. Kid’s without a father in their home are more likely to have behavior problems, be obese, face abuse/neglect, go to prison, commit a crime, and/or suffer from depression. There is no debate that a father in the home and actively involved in their child’s life makes a significant difference in the family as well as society. (See “The Father Absence Crisis in America on http://www.fatherhood.org)

Some Fathers are absent from their children because of their behavior or bad choices. Some are absent because they have betrayed their partner and their children in a way that shows them unfit and untrustworthy. Some fathers are absent because their father was absent in their life and they just don’t know any better. Yet, some fathers are absent because they were thrown out, shut out, or litigated out of their children’s life. Some dads are not in the home, but provide a great example of father hood in shared agreements and responsibilities. All absent fathers are not equal, but they are all in the same circle. The issue is not one of how to judge absent fathers, but rather how do we rescue and rebuild the lives of children in need.

What can we do? How do American men respond? How does the church react to the need? How will 1 in 3 children get the counsel and the confidence they need from a father figure in their life?

We need men of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experiences to see every fatherless child as a part of their family. No exceptions. Fathering must become our highest and most valued vocational calling or in a few years this statistic will double because momentum is on the side of fathers being absent from the home. The primary action is to call, equip, and support every father to be successful in being a father. No one can do “daddy” better than the “daddy” of a child. Fathering is not restricted by lack of money, lack of education, or lack of need. It is only restricted when their is a lack of commitment, concern, and/or character. Every father needs to expect their sons to be good fathers. Every brother needs to encourage their brother to be active in their kids lives. Every friend needs to hold their bros accountable for how they take care of their children and show themselves present and accounted for. Every church needs to teach men how to not only be Christian men, but be good fathers as both roles honor God and strengthen the family.

But we need a back up plan also. The call must go out to those who are not biological fathers of children in your neighborhood or church. You may not have planned on being a father, but children need you to make an adjustment to your plans and get in the game. Maybe you need to sign up to be their mentor. Maybe you need to coach them in baseball, teach them in Sunday School, take them on a camp out, or help them finish high school. Some will need you to become their foster dad and perhaps their adoptive father as over 400,000 are waiting in the foster care system today. Some will need you to come along side later in their life as an adult youth to help them know how to keep a job, how to manage money, how to be reconciled through forgiveness, how to account for mistakes, and how to start their own family the right way and with the best of intentions to follow through. Every man in every community is the back up plan for fathering the children of our country and we need to see this as a critical pro life cause in our generation.

Unplanned fathering does not require course work or membership dues. It only requires the best of faith, hope, and love that a man can give to a child in need. Expertise is not required in this kind of fathering nor is it necessary to consider yourself a hero for stepping in. Don’t see yourself as a world changer. Just be content to be the change that a child needs to not only avoid crisis, but to acquire the certainty that they can make it and make it successfully. Don’t pursue thanks or tokens of appreciation. Be celebrated by the achievement of the kid that you poured your life into even if your fathering was unplanned. Having kids doesn’t make you a father. Raising them in the right way does.

Everyday is Father’s Day. Not for celebration, but for work because fathering is hard work. But its the best kind of hard work we will never get paid for. Don’t plan on earning anything as a dad. Let the agenda and the slate remain open and clean. The best kind of gain is that which you don’t plan on receiving. It is found money or found freedom. Unplanned fathering will bring great gain into the life of a man, but nothing like it will bring into the life of a child. As children are a gift from the Lord to fathers (Psalm 127:3) so fathers are a gift into the lives of every child in every generation (Exodus 20:12).

Please adjust your plans today. Take time to think about what kid needs you. If it is your child that needs you to step up your game as a father then do it and don’t worry about how you failed in the past. If it is a niece or a nephew, a cousin, or a sibling that needs you to step in and be the father figure then go for it and don’t look back. Perhaps it is a sibling group in your neighborhood or an only child on your baseball team that needs someone to mentor them into maturity. Maybe there is a grown man in the cubicle next to you who never knew his father and needs your mature and balanced voice in their life. Make yourself available to any child/youth/adult that needs your fathering input and then see what God does with your willing spirit.

Regardless of the plans you have for your life it just might be that God has other plans for you to consider. Based on who He is I am certain that He wants us to be all that we can be for kids in crisis. The most God honoring thing we may ever do with our life is to be a father to the fatherless in our generation. Make sure to plan your availability for the redemptive role that God has for you. The plans that you make for yourself are small in comparison to the plans He has for you. Unplan your plans so that God can reroute your work/calling in life to intersect with a kid in need. Could it be that this new role just might be the one that you have been searching for all of your life and that a kid has been waiting and waiting for you to step into it as their unplanned father?  God loves it when that kind of plan comes together.

Mother’s Day Revisited

We all have a mother. There is no getting around it. Having a mother is an intricate part of the procreating process that God dreamed into our earthly reality. While I know that science and social experimentation have tweaked the birthing process since it was first introduced, the genetics of a mother are still required. Without a mother there is no baby. The same is true of a father, but I digress.

What happens following birth though is greatly different from child to child. Some will be placed in their mother’s arms and held tightly until they leave home as grown ups. Others will never be cradled by mom and will long for her touch. Others will find warmth, nurture, and tenderness in the arms of another mother and be forever grateful for her role in their life. Many will reflect on their mother’s touch as hot or cold or as accepting or rejecting. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes as well as perspectives and practices. Hopefully we can all appreciate our mother for who she is rather than what she did for mothers are real people in our life and not just providers of our next meal.

Yesterday across the country millions of people stopped to thank mom. Flowers, cards, gifts, and expensive meals were provided as a gesture of appreciation. Christian congregations ordered their liturgy to reflect on mothers and how they are gifts of God to children and to the family. Sports teams and entertainment venues marketed Mother’s Day as a great time to come out to the ball park or come into the concert hall. Parks and backyards were full of families eating and laughing who get together only two or three times a year to catch up and refocus on the family. Mom was the MVP, MOP, GOAT, and the GDP all in one yesterday and rightfully so. Yesterday was a day for mom to rest, reflect, be revered, and rejoice at the work of her hands. It was her day of reward.

But that was yesterday.

Today is a day for mom to go back to work. You have 364 days until your next free day and every one of them will count. So let’s make the most of the next year. I am writing to every mom on behalf of every kid so read carefully and apply where appropriate.

Mom’s we need you to…

  • Help us to smile, laugh, breathe, and skip. Life takes that away from us at every chance.
  • Remind us of how much you love us, pray for us, and appreciate us. Sometimes you are the only one who does.
  • Teach us to mind our manners, eat right, and behave ourselves. We forget those things that you taught us so long ago.
  • Recount for us the story of our birth and beginnings. That will help orient us time and time again in life when we are lost or confused. Heritage is way more valuable than we sometimes think.
  • Be a person of real faith and certainty that God is at work in all things. No matter what seems to be taking place.
  • Stop worrying about us. Advise us and encourage us, but worry, anxiety, and heart burn only hurts you and us.
  • Show us how to forgive and faithfully love those who hurt us. No one forgives like a mother so teach us please.
  • Stop chasing our childhood and help us navigate adulthood. It is a jungle out here and you know the way. Show us like you showed us how to tie a shoe or wash behind our ears.
  • Take care of yourself. Not with cosmetics and clothes or fads and follies that adorn your outward appearance. Take care of the inside of you – your heart, your mind, your soul. Those are the treasures most important to your children.
  • Tell us that we are smart, we are kind, and we are important. (Thanks Aibileen!) That is all that we ever really need to know as children and you are the greatest source of it on earth.
  • Never give up on us. We are still growing up sometimes even at 44.  🙂

I will likely think of other things for your mom “to do” list, but that is a start. Don’t try and conquer all of it today or this week. Pace yourself as you get back to work. Don’t be overwhelmed by the load. You are a mom and God has made you just a little lower than a super hero (but a much better cook (probably.) You’ve got this and you getting this will make all the difference in us.

We love you. Hopefully it won’t take another year to say that. Let’s talk soon. Now get to work so we can go back to being kids.

Least, Last, and Living in Reversal

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“Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.” (Matthew 20:16 – The Message)

Service. That is the call that God gives to those who put their faith in salvation through Christ Jesus. Specifically, God has called us to serve others in as many ways and places as we can possibly can. Serving others is not naturally what we want to do, but spiritually becomes our calling because it is what He has gifted us to do. With our faith comes a reordering of the way we have done life up until the moment we meet Jesus. That is where life gets interesting for us. His mission becomes our mission. Our heart begins to beat the same as His heart. Our agenda is transformed by His agenda. Our rhetoric is shaped to be the same as His righteous rhetoric. And yes, our politics should be the same as His politics – which doesn’t have much to do at all with the RNC or the DNC.

According to Mt 20:16 we find that by putting ourselves last we find ourselves first in the kingdom of God. This is not a plan to get ahead by manipulating the words of scripture. This is a life of reordering our priorities, our plans, our place so that God can use us most effectively and most graciously in the lives of others. If we want to be a leader we must take up the towel of service. If we want to be a great church we must be a church that pours into the lives of others (the poor, the lost, the next generation, the alien, etc…) If we want to be a great nation we must learn that service is not measured by community hours or positions of tenure, but by sacrifice, sharing, supporting each other and standing together.

When we serve we do so without expectation or personal gain or standing. We serve because we are convinced that the least and the last belong to the community that God has called us to build. Our focus is not a particular demographic, but a global demonstration of love for others and most importantly a love for the kingdom that God is building. That kingdom is being built with or without us. God is building that kingdom even when we don’t approve of His methods or the membership that He has gathered. His is a kingdom of least and the last as well of the lost and the looking.

That is the reversal that only God can pull off -one that makes the sinner into a saint, a prodigal into a beloved child, and a thief into a servant. A great and glorious action of a greater God who takes pleasure in renewing and rebuilding a world that is beaten down and destroyed. God’s mighty acts of reversing the status quo testifies to both His sovereignty and His love for all creation. Yes, our God is a God that is able (sovereign) and willing (loving) to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can imagine. Wow!

That kind of God makes me glad/joyful/content to be the least and the last in anything He is doing. Count me in God. I’m with you!

Some Things Shouldn’t Be Faked

Netflix has uploaded a series of videos that were designed as countdown videos to help families ring in the New Year with some pomp and circumstance. The purpose of the family friendly countdown video addresses a major problem with families on New Year’s Eve. Apparently, telling kids they need to go to bed before it is actually midnight is a problem for some families and Netflix discovered a way to help families out. The videos feature some of the most popular cartoon and real life characters to fire up the kids so they can count down New Year at 6 PM, 8 PM, 10 PM or perhaps even earlier in the day. The actual time is really not the point. The experience of counting down and popping the cork – even for kids – seems to be a “can’t miss” and a “we can’t disappoint them” event for families these days. No need for truth or transparency in the family. Just fake it. Thanks Netflix for helping families across the world get past this end of the year calendar nuisance without making mom/dad seem so bad.

Countdown 2016     (Check it out!)

Please hear me when I say that I am not against Netflix, New Year’s Even Countdown videos or sending kids to bed early. It is highly likely that I will use and practice all three this Thursday night. I am against parents who deliberately lie to their children, media companies who intentionally aid such deception, and cultural experiences that tempt families and/or churches to bend the rules of what is right so that fun and cool always comes first. (Use your imagination on that last one for a minute.)

Faking that we are excited about getting socks for Christmas might be ok. Faking that your Aunt Polly’s casserole tastes good is probably a good idea. Faking that you are surprised that the New England Patriots are the NFL’s biggest cheaters might even be acceptable if you are trying to keep family harmony and peace on earth. A 40+ year old former male athlete faking an injury to get out of a tackle football game with younger men is certainly alright. These are things that can be faked without losing integrity or credibility, but there is a long list of things that shouldn’t ever be faked.

Here are just a few…

We can’t fake parenting by taking the easy way out. Our kids liking us can not be our highest priority. Our kids following us into maturity is. We can’t fake our maturity or authenticity. Kids know and others do to.

We can’t fake friendship with people so that our network is expanded or we have a fall back plan to prevent loneliness or boredom. True friendship accepts others as they are and enjoys them that way. True friends are not always the takers of the relationship. Sometimes (often?) we are the givers.

We can’t fake our fitness by buying new shoes or clothes. Eating healthy only helps when we exercise and sleep well. Faking fitness is an easy thing these days. Everyone dresses the part. Few people have the medical records to back up their wardrobe. Faking it puts us in a company of people trying to look and feel better, but in the end we know that we are really out of control and undisciplined.

We can’t fake love with our spouse or special other. We love them or we don’t and we shouldn’t fool ourselves or them. It just isn’t fair. ( If you are uncertain if you are faking love or not review 1 Corinthians 13. If you aren’t loving like that, you are a fake.)

We can’t fake our worship of God with tears and/or a happy heart. Those emotions could very well be moments of escape from our fear, worry or doubt. Worship likely does make us feel good, but worship is not about feelings. It is about God. Worshipping God is daily and is full of the details of our life including our actions, attitudes, assets and ambitions. Worshipping God consumes everything or it consumes nothing!

We can’t fake liking ourselves either. Many people hate who they are or what they have become, but see no way out. So they fake self acceptance by indulging or insulating their ego with pride and self deception. Yet, they are simply covering up the shame and disappointment they have with themselves by faking it day after day.

Truthfully, I have been a fake in all of these ways and more. It is painful to admit it, but to deny it just increases my status as a serial faker. I know you have too. Faking is not an anomaly in our culture. It is an epidemic. You might even say that our culture is suffering from a pandemic crisis of fakery. God’s grace is the cure. Don’t try any other remedy because it won’t work. Just try on the true clothes of Christ and see what happens. It will eliminate our need for popular parenting tips. It will forge friendships that last through the ages and across the miles (even from TX to Ohio). God’s grace will transform our love of self into a love of Christ and towards a surrendered love of others that is pure and holy. And when God’s grace grips our soul we become instruments of worship with our whole body, mind, and spirit.

Some things just shouldn’t be faked. Faking doesn’t help anyone or anything. It only deceives and divides. Real life and real relationship is impossible as long as faking is the foundation. Embrace truth in all things, but do so with love and concern for others at all times. Choosing not to fake things is not an excuse to be a jerk. Just an opportunity to be real.

Nobody needs a fake in their life on any level. It is a learned behavior that needs to be and can be absolved.  We just have to make the choice – daily.

So what are you choosing today?

Parental Transitions

parental transition

Parenting is a big responsibility and comes with big requirements. From the moment that child first cries until the day you depart with your last breath, you are responsible for the child God blessed your home with. It is likely that only as a parent can your heart be blessed and broken in the same day by one person and sometimes within the same sentence. Parenting is not for the faint at heart or the easily defeated.  Parenting requires skills.

Among those skills is the ability to change with and for the child you are parenting. The status you carry today will change by tomorrow and so will her/his demands of you. The older they get, the more this should become apparent. They are transitioning from one stage of life to the next and you as parent must transition your style and schemes in the same way and timing that they do. Otherwise, you seem and sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown to a kid who is doing exactly what he was born to do – grow up.

That is where I am right now. My three little darlings have become three little daring teenagers just trying to make their way in the world. This is not a fad or a stage. It is life. Their life.

And I want to be a part of their life for the rest of my life. So, I must transition with them or I will be left behind thinking and wishing and regretting and wasted.

We must transition from sheltering them from everything to shielding them from some things. We can not protect them from all harm. We can only help them avoid the trouble that is ahead and perhaps be able to predict it. Help them avoid the biggest threats while walking with them as they face smaller threats or challenges to the worldview we have offered them. A small scrape learned at home will be a benefit when big scrapes come along later in life.

We must transition from choosing everything for them to coaching them to good choices. Everyday a child becomes more and more independent. Everyday a parent either helps them live independently or puts up a road block to their growth. Coaching is a good middle ground as they grow up and feel the need to have their own way, but still need advice and counsel. If they learn to take coaching in the small things at home, they will seek coaching in life when big things pop up.

We must transition from loving our “little person to liking the real person they are striving to become. Always love, love, love your children. Don’t forget to like them, too; whomever they are growing into. Parental acceptance is a primary need for every child. Don’t be blinded by old memories of your children. Look longingly at today’s real life photos. New memories are being made. Don’t miss them.

We must transition from teaching them about bad things/choices to talking with them about right things/choices. Sure there is plenty of things to warn our kids about. Warn them about sex, drugs and rock n roll, but also talk to them about the good, fun and beautiful things in life. Point them toward things that truly satisfy and away from things that seek to rob, kill and destroy. They will quickly recognize the difference.

We must transition from being blessed by their successes to being a blessing in their defeat/agony/failures.  Children are valuable to us. But let’s not value them for what they do for us or for how well they succeed in life, sports and other things. Be there to bless them when they don’t “hit it out of the park.” That might be your most important parental activity. God made us for them; not the other way around.

We must transition from living our dreams through them to believing in them to dream their own dream and chase it successfully. Since they weren’t made to finish the dreams we couldn’t, let them have their own life. They don’t have to be a lawyer, a teacher or a sports figure. They don’t have to be Republican or Methodist or even Texan. Open the door and show them the wide open spaces of life and then free them to roam. They are likely to go anyway, so just go ahead and make it your idea.

Transition is no time to retreat or recoil with fear or hopelessness. Every transition requires our best effort as a parent and our greatest attention to the details of relationship with our kids. Parents lead the way in helping their kids form and foster solid relationships in life. Teaching them to do so during the transitions of life at home is where they first learn.

Parenting is about feeding, clothing, helping, teaching, caring, hugging, disciplining and about 1,000 other daily needs our kids have. But helping them feel safety in the transitions of life may be the most important thing we do for and with them. For if children can’t adjust to transitions at home, they will be lost in the world that constantly is in transition.

Successful parental transitioning requires us to move from one stage of or approach to parenting to the next. Choosing to transition is likely one of the few areas of parenting that a parent has complete control over. A parent cannot make every decision or control every occurrence in their child’s life, but a parent does have complete control over her/his own attitudes, approaches and actions related to interacting with their children. In the end, our success as a parent may very well be measured by how well we transitioned along the way as our kids grew into the people they were born to become.

Get ready. A transition is just around the corner. You don’t want to be left behind. This part of parenting is a lot of fun. Get ready to move.

Parents, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. (Ephesians 6:4 – The Message)

One Thing Every Parent Must Know

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Last night I dropped my son off at an inner city baseball practice run by our local MLB team. It is an urban academy launched to engage kids in the inner city of Houston in playing baseball and learning sports in a positive way. First class facilities, first class instruction, and first class coaches are leading some of our kids to a first class experience, and it may be the best part of their week. It was for my kid.

As I was leaving and my son was joining the other boys, one of the coaches called out his name, “Hey, Drew! We’ll get started in a minute. Start stretching.” There were 15 other high school kids there, and he called my son by name! I turned to him and said “Son, you are famous! The Astros coach knows you by name!” I was so impressed. Out of 15 kids, he called one by name: MINE!

Drew turned to me and said, “No big deal dad. I am the only white kid that comes to these practices. I kinda stand out.” I immediately knew he was right, and while he is a gifted baseball player he was noticed more for his skin tone than his skill. Up until now, he had been practicing with kids his age, but this group was bigger and better than anyone he had practiced with so far. The whole game had changed for Drew and we both could sense it.

I asked him how that made him feel. He said “Well…it is definitely different.” Of course it is. He goes to a mostly white school and church, lives in a mostly white neighborhood, and has almost all white friends despite living in one of the most diverse cities in the USA. I asked him if the coaches and players treated him differently. He said “They are all nice, and the coaches are really good. But, I don’t talk much with the other players. I just don’t know them that well.” I turned to him and said the most important thing I could ever say to my son, “Drew, there is no difference between you and those kids. White, black, brown, you are all kids playing baseball. They have dads wanting them to be successful at baseball, but more importantly at life. That is what I want for you, too. Have fun. Play ball. Work hard.”

He nodded his head and walked nervously onto the field along with 15 other big, high school kids who acted like and looked like they were almost ready for the major leagues. My little 8th grader was outsized, outnumbered, and was way out of his comfort zone with that gang he was joining for the next 2 hours of play.

I stayed to watch him play/practice. While he was nervous about the level of competition, he was not nervous about the kids he played with. He didn’t avoid shaking hands or high fiving. He didn’t run out of the way to steer clear of any contact. He didn’t ignore encouragement or correction when it came from the staff or players. He just played. And when he got in the car he said “You were right dad. Thanks for bringing me.”

Success!

I have accepted the fact that I will not be able to make, craft or buy his way into major league baseball. I can’t make him apply his knowledge academically in ways that set him up for success in college and career. I can’t make him like my music, wear clothes I like or think I am cool. I can’t force him to follow Christ, and the day will come when I won’t be able to make him go to church. I want so badly for him to succeed in every aspect of life and faith, but realize that I have limited opportunities to be the decider for him anymore. He is (almost) his own man. The best thing I can do now is help him see the world as clearly as possible so that his choices aren’t bent by cynical, careless and/or combative points of view.

Parenting a teenager is more about optometry than podiatry. We cannot make them walk the way we want them to walk, but our words, our actions, may help them see the world that we have worked so hard to see clearly. Our blurry vision of people, places and things have caused us great pain. If only we had been able to see the world more clearly at an earlier age we might have lived very different lives.

My experience with Drew was a culmination of my life’s work in race relations. I know a thing or two about cultural racism and prejudice and I wasn’t even alive during the Civil Rights movement. My view of people is 180 degrees opposite of what it was when I was my son’s age. Thanks be to God (and Jamie) who helped me see the world in a whole new way. It’s a vision of a world that sees the color of skin as an expression of God’s creative flare instead of an easy way for society to divide rights and privileges or freedom and fortune.

The one thing that every parent must know is this: you make the biggest difference in how your children handle issues of racial division. Parents, please hear me. You will be the biggest factor in how your child sees, treats and lives with people of another color. You will either make them haters or lovers. They will learn to fear and fight based on how you talk about and respond to issues and/or discussions of race. Or, they will learn to extend a hand, give full acceptance, and live in peace with all people of all colors and all languages. You will do one of those things either intentionally or unintentionally. Make it an intentional act for good. Help your child/children see a world full of peaceful possibilities instead of a world that is breaking apart from hate and cultural traditions.

Teachers, preachers, police officers, friends, even Starbucks will have an influence on how your child (and/or grandchild) develops their racial views. Use your words to be inclusive and then personally act in inviting, accepting ways when engaged with all people. Don’t make jokes that fringe on racist or classist feelings. Be the difference in your child’s life when forming their feelings about other people. Racism is an American tradition that needs to die out. Let’s start killing racism at home, and at church, and on the baseball field.

#racetogether