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.

Tick-Tock Parenting

melting-clock

On any given day I will make 3 to 5 trips to the schools to pick a kid up, drop a kid off, and sometimes shuttle their friend here or there. To be honest that doesn’t fit all that well with my schedule and being inconvenienced has not been a favorite past time of mine at any point in my life. Most often I see those trips as a “have to do” and not a “get to do.”

Jamie is the opposite. She loves to take a kid here, take a kid there. And the kids like for her to take them although they don’t always like arriving in her minivan. On these trips they sing, talk, laugh, and sometimes get lost or forget where they are going. But they are fun trips that she loves to “get to do.”

Yesterday, after I made 3 trips to the high school after work, I also had to go and watch a homecoming parade. One kid was marching with the band and the other was marching with his football team. The parade was scheduled to go around the high school and end up in the football stadium for a pep rally with all school sports and activities participating. Parents, siblings, and friends were to watch and cheer along the way before assembling in the stadium to again watch and cheer. Seemed like a big pile of “have to” to me.  Jamie rushed home from work, rushed Julia to church, dropped a meal off for a family in need, and rushed back to join me in the gallery. She couldn’t wait to “get to” watch those boys do their thing.

As those two young men passed in all their youthful glory it occurred to me that these are the moments I have been waiting for. This isn’t wasted time at all. This is time spent in the best way possible.  Standing in the grass, fighting the TX heat, missing a replay of Seinfeld on TBS may seem like inconveniences to me, but they are the not. They are small details in moments where my life’s work is on display. Parenting (and friendships for that matter) are about seeing a moment for what it is and enjoying it to its fullest.

Moments invested in the celebration and/or support of others – especially our children – are the moments we have to put into slow motion and capture every frame. Being hurried, inconvenienced, or bored will carry us right past memories that we were born to be forever touched by. While watching what happens we will not capture the exact moment that he/she does the unbelievable.

We don’t waste time when we are available for our kids when they need us.  Time is wasted when we choose to be inconvenienced by their need.

We don’t waste time when we celebrate the work of our kids in band, sports, academics, or just being a good kid. Time is wasted when we ignore their accomplishments and think about “what could be.”

We don’t waste time when we invest in their friendships by being nice and available to those they feel connected with. Time is wasted when we are bothered by how odd or different their friends are and try to isolate them socially.

We don’t waste time when we take the moments to teach, to correct, and to discipline our kids. Time is wasted when we ignore their behavior and hope they get it right next time. (They likely won’t without our input.)

We don’t waste time when we are honest with them about our failures and faults in life embarrassing as they may be. Time is wasted when we let them think they are the only ones in the family to ever mess up or to ever struggle with temptation or trials.

We don’t waste time when we are concerned enough to talk to, pray with, and cry over how they are doing. Time is wasted when we rely primarily on social media for ideas on what to do with a kid in trouble.

We don’t waste time when we try to slow down the growing up time so we can enjoy the moments we have with them. Time is wasted  when we do all we can to speed up time to get them to a place where they can care completely for themselves.

We don’t waste time when we just stop and listen to them, laugh with them, and/or look at them in amazement. Time is wasted when we choose to live in a blur and let our time belong to everybody else but our family.

Time spent well with our kids is time well spent in our hearts. We can never get back those missed moments, but we can plan to miss as few as possible. Better to short ourselves of personal time, choice, and say so than to short our kids of the very real presence of a parent invested in their success and happiness. Those moments should be “get to do” moments as often as possible. In the future, we won’t remember what we “had to do” anyway.  We’ll only remember the moments where we “got to” tell people they were “ours.”

Fathers/Mothers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

When “That” Guy Won’t Shut Up

trump 2

Everybody has a Donald Trump in their life. That is not to say that we all are personally connected to Donald John Trump, Sr of Manhattan, NY and current presidential candidate saying outlandish things. But we do all have someone – at work, at church, on our soft ball team, or in our family – that will say things that makes the whole crowd uncomfortable and might make everybody embarrassed to be associated with this irrational character. “That” guy can take a perfectly good day and make it seem like the longest day of our life just by opening their mouth and spewing their thoughts on a subject.

So what do you do when you know someone that thinks they speak for everybody, but their “spokesmanship” is unwarranted and off the mark? What do you do when “that” gal/guy just won’t shut up? What can be done to soften or silence that hot air in the room?

Don’t ignore them just because they usually say dumb things and people don’t take them seriously. By being silent and/or ignoring the controversy you send the signal that you agree with her/him. That is bad especially if they are causing more division in the crowd than clarity on the subject. If you don’t like what they say you certainly don’t want others to assume you think they are right, or smart or telling the truth.

Don’t be silent for the sake of not causing further controversy. Sometimes you might have to make a public statement that sets the record straight and separates you from them. More often your speaking will be done privately with other people effected by “the Donald.”  Make sure that you are the only one that is troubled by her/his stump speeches on behalf of everyone else. Making sure that everyone else on the team is not in agreement with the rhetoric may be the best thing you can do, but sometimes taking on your teammate in public might be the better the choice.

Don’t make excuses for them. Stupid is as stupid does. Let them hang themselves. Your interference will only delay their public shaming.

Don’t join them in their foolishness. Whatever you say or do in response, do it with class, prudence, hope, and grace. Getting the last word or the best word in a debate only has momentary satisfaction. Losing or dinging your character in frustration will prove to be very costly. One slip of the tongue can do great harm to your career and/or your reputation.

Don’t be afraid to cut ties. If at all possible we should desire to find the common ground with those who have brought discomfort to our camp. Not everyone has to agree on everything, but we all must find the space where we can agree and hang out there often. In the end though it may not be possible to keep everybody on board. That is easier said than done, but it could possibly come to that. Sometimes a government, a business, a team, or a church is better off with one less person on board. Maybe it is your call to invite them to disembark. Think that through carefully, but be ready to do it if necessary. That is what a leader does when the situation warrants it.

If you have been lucky enough to avoid having such a brash personality in your life then count yourself lucky. But get ready and be prepared. I’ll bet they are right around the corner thinking of something clever (in their humble opinion) to say. Now you are ready for them.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

What Are You Going To Do About You?

 

 happy new year 

This is the New Year’s Day question that everyone should be asking. What will you do in 2015 that will make your life, your leadership, your relationships, yourself, better? What problems, addictions, disappointments, failures will you face and correct? What issues will you deny, disregard, and/or dismiss?

Perhaps you are approaching 2015 with COURAGE with every intention of being the best “you” that you can be. Your vision includes losing weight, living on a budget, getting more sleep, and spending more time with people you love. You might also be courageous enough to deal with some deep seeded hurt from your past or some big, hairy fears of the future before you. Regardless of the circumstances or details, this year will be different than the years before because you have decided to do something to make life better.

Maybe you haven’t given any thought to 2015. You are hoping that nobody mentions resolutions or asks you to make a list. Maybe you have resolved to change or improve in years past only to fail before the crystal ball ever lit up. The year 2015 will come and go, and whatever will happen, will happen. No planning necessary. Live carefree. Live every minute like it is your last and you want to soak up every breath, every gulp, every dollar, every everything you can eat, drink, see, taste or spend. Saving up for later and living in moderation is for fools! So you are approaching the New Year with a CARE-LESS view of your life. 2016 can’t get here fast enough!

If I could influence you at all with a guideline for 2015, it would be to do so with one word in mind – COMPASSION. As in, have some and get more. Have some compassion for yourself. Have compassion for your family or friends. Have compassion for those you don’t know. Have compassion for the events of the week where you have been wronged or wronged another. Have compassion for what will happen tomorrow that will offend, annoy, or disappoint you.

When we claim the compassionate fuel within us, we position ourselves to be a part of renewal. Maybe it is our own heart and soul that is being renewed from brokenness. Maybe it is the life of another that we share in the renewal of, but compassion makes healing, help, renewal possible. Without compassion the ways in which life has failed us/others will feed on anger, bitterness, even rage. Without compassion for others we greatly impair our ability to live a more full life. Without compassion we have no chance of having a better 2015 or any other year.

For whom and/or for what do you need to find compassion? Perhaps that is the better question to ask heading into a new year.  If you decide to live with compassion for others and for yourself in 2015, the year will be a year like no other. It just might be that missing piece to your life that you have always longed for. Instead of chasing things that will make you feel better about your appearance, your savings account, your self-interest, consider chasing character that God created us to be. Compassionate souls resist the temptation to let themselves get in the way of helping others and making the world better, because a better world for others is a better world for ourselves.

This could be the best year of your life. It is up to you. What will you do about you?

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”       ― Frederick Buechner

 

 

You Are As Slow As Christmas

nativity

I’d bet you have thought that exact thing about someone this year. It is a saying that had way more meaning to us as children when we longed for December to come so we could leave school behind, get presents and play in the snow. But alas, time would drag by and August felt like a year to us!

Children take this way of framing time into adulthood. From time to time we either are designated as “slow as Christmas” or we give that illustrious title to others. Speed up, hurry along, and get going because you/we are holding others up!

The greatest sin in life today seems to be going slowly. We don’t drive slowly. We don’t move slowly in the supermarket with our push carts.  We throw away slow computers and change internet providers if a faster one is available. We primarily eat fast food because slow food is for suckers.  If friends are too slow, we leave them behind because we are going places. We reject slow at all costs and think that is the way to get ahead in life. If you are slow in life, you’re likely alone most of the time because the crowd has left you behind. Slow is stupid, old school and boring.

We are especially uninterested in a God who is slow. But that is how He comes. Slow as Christmas. And we can hardly stand it sometimes.

This Advent passage (2 Peter 3:8-15) reminds us that God operates on a longer time frame than humanity, but is, nonetheless, working from the same agenda that we do. God and all His children in Christ are at work bringing salvation to the world. It is slowly making its way through the centuries capturing all who repent and believe, and chasing those who are pushing ahead and running through life. Unfortunately, many of us are too busy and going too fast to catch a glimpse.

And while the world is busy chasing it addictions and obsessions, something wonderful sneaks up on us. Not in a spooky or creepy way, but in a real way. In a beautiful way. In a “Jesus way.”

Just when we think God is too slow to match up with our lives and schedules, we find that He has managed to catch up. In reality we sense that maybe He was there all of our lives – even longer – but we just didn’t notice.

When we were chasing life as fast as we could, He was there.

When we were pursuing that pretty girl/boy in romance and sexual desire, He was there.

When we were making money and climbing the ladder, He was there.

When we were high on ourselves and clueless to everything/everybody around us, He was there.

When we were “playing church” and fooling them all, He was there.

When we were devastated by the events of life and sure nobody cared, He was there.

He was there. Patiently waiting and working. Lovingly letting us try it all, but hoping we would develop a taste for life in His kingdom. Saving us. Keeping us. Helping us along. He was there. And He is here even now. Still waiting. Still longing. Still hoping. Still saving. That is who He is. That is why He came. That is why He will keep coming again and again.

God is not slow. He is at work. He works in patient, deliberate ways so that the work He is doing meets us at the most critical point in our life. Don’t be fooled into thinking He is absent, and don’t be tempted to try and run. His promise will prevail, and our best work will be wasted. Our world will pass away, but Christmas proclaims that His kingdom is never-ending.

He ain’t slow. He’s our savior.

Advent 2 / 2 Peter 3:8-15

8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Good For You

thumbs up

I have been talking for a long time. Some will say too long. Over 40 years’ worth of dialogue and details about what has gone through my mind, out of my mouth and into the ears of the world.  You are welcome.

As I reflect on all those words, I realize that some words have come easily – regularly – while some have been much more difficult to utter. I often say “but,” “no,” “what do you want?” and “who dat?” Not so frequently spoken are words like “please,” “thank you,” “help” or “please forgive me.” I bet you have similar lists of words you frequently say, as well as words you rarely say. Those lists are worth reflecting on because they may point us to a deeper understanding of who we are and how we see the world. The words that actually come out of our mouths may be the purest form of expressing our feelings, thoughts, and “2 cents” about the world around us.

I have a terrible time saying these words: “good for you.” I don’t know if it is because of my nature or nurture, or if it is based on my education or my experiences in life, but I have the hardest time saying them. Even when I think someone deserves something good to happen, I have to work to get those words up from my heart and out into the open. And when I judge someone’s success to be because of politics, family positioning, luck, or plain old cheating, I will almost never offer those words. Saying “good for you” or even “congratulations” is like trying to speak another language. It sounds so odd and feels so awkward.

This isn’t a new development. I think (know) that I have been like this since childhood. High school and college didn’t provide better results. It has gotten worse as I have matured (gotten older). Even people I like will rarely get an “awesome” or “atta-boy” from me without sarcasm or bitterness. I always want to know why I didn’t win or why I wasn’t considered. Encouragement is not my gift.  Judging “what is fair” or what “should be” seems to be.

So what does that say about me? Am I mad, jealous, greedy, cynical, or something else?

I fear that it is a character flaw. And it is one that I cannot afford to continue to embrace or protect. Not being able or willing to celebrate and bless the accomplishments, success, and/or victories of others will isolate me even further than I often feel. Maybe learning to celebrate and rejoice is the most important lesson we can learn as children. Only, it is likely a lesson we will need to keep on learning and relearning because, as we grow up, we grow more and more interested in celebrating ourselves.

Today is a new opportunity to learn new words. My new words are “good for you.” I hope to say them over and over again to my children, my wonderful wife, my work team members, my friends, and the stranger I meet along the way. There is no limit on how many times or ways I can affirm, celebrate, and encourage the success and progress of people I encounter. Only I can limit how much enjoyment I get in watching or witnessing others enjoy life. In the end, I am the one most damaged by taking things so personal and by being bothered by the good news of other people.

There is a lot of good happening in the world. Let me take notice and tell others when something good just happened in their lives. They might be depending on me to lead their parade of successful celebration. Someone might need me to share in the excitement of their gain because no one else wants to or even cares enough to notice. Maybe I will learn that seeing the good in others’ lives will help me notice all of the good things going on in my own.

And that would be really “good for you/me/us.”

“For the rest of his life, Oliver Twist remembers a single word of blessing spoken to him by another child because this word stood out so strikingly from the consistent discouragement around him.”            – Charles Dickens