Of Graves and Shadows

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When I became a young man I desired to be dad. Something in me wanted to impart life-giving truths to the next generation. I wanted someone on my shoulders seeing farther than I did.  I however, never anticipated the moment I would find myself upon a hill in our family forest, digging a grave.  I dug and chopped through frost and root-laden soil to bury our long-time family friend, our golden retriever, Montana.

Continue reading “Of Graves and Shadows”

Lessons from a Kid Picked Last

Youth football player

It was nearly 29 years ago to the day at my high-school football banquet.  The coach – Coach Buckel – went through each player on the team and shared some glowing remarks about each of them.  Anticipating the shower of compliments with both of my divorced parents in the room he got to the very last player and…and…nothing.  He skipped right over me! I shrunk down into my seat hoping the earth would swallow me up. My friends spoke up and told the coach he forgot about me.  So he sheepishly brought me up and made up a few words and quickly moved on. Now I wasn’t his star player for sure, but I never missed a practice and regularly took beatings at the hands of the first team all year.

Thirty years later, I’ve learned a few things about life. I know what it means to be picked last.  I’ve learned how to overcome life’s little injustices.  Here are some insights for you if you’ve ever been forgotten, overlooked, or picked last.

  1. Realize not all gifts are handed out equally.  This is the cold, hard reality.  Some people will excel at things you struggle with.  Some have great athletic ability.  Some excel at music and theater.  Some can sing like birds and run like deer.  Some people can do all of them!  We cannot control the gifts God gave us, but we can control what we do with them. While on the football field, I couldn’t run as fast as others nor could I generate the force of someone twice my size.  It is what it is.
  1. Find what you’re good at.  While gifts are not handed out equally, you did get some natural ability.  Part of the fun of life is searching for these seeds of greatness.  What types of things come easier to you than your peers?  Where do find endurance with joy?  When others want to quit, you want to keep going.  What things do you enjoy reading about? What interests do you have?  What gifts do others see in you that you may not even notice?  I may not have been a great football player, but I could fly an airplane soon after I received my driver’s license.  It wasn’t long and I was taking my friends up into my world.
  1. Work harder than your peers.  Those players on the team that the coach didn’t forget worked all year on their strength and their skills.  I didn’t.  I procrastinated and didn’t get everything I could have from my talent.  Champions are made in the off season.  You’re gifts do not come to you fully developed.  You must put in the time to see them blossom.  Experts tell us that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.  I don’t think it takes that long to blossom a gift, but you get the point.  There is no shortcut to anyplace worth going.  No matter your talent, you must endure being bad at something long enough to be good at it.
  1. Your value is not rooted in your performance.  When I stunk at football, it didn’t make me less of a person.  It didn’t make me less valuable as a human (a team-mate maybe, but not a person).  Your value is rooted in the fact that God created you and invested his glory and image in you.  He purchased and redeemed you at the cost of His son on a Roman cross.  You carry the value of Christ, regardless of your performance.  This truth liberates you to try and sometimes fail at different things.  When picked last, you can simply admit, “I’m not so good at this game, I’ll do my best and keep a positive attitude throughout the experience.”  There will be a time when your talent will save the day. Perhaps it is not this day, but your value doesn’t hinge on your performance.
  1. Be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve.  When my daughter’s first grade class built a float for our city parade, each parent needed to help.  I showed up ready to contribute, but a number of alpha males with their cordless drills and nail guns took over.  Building things was their thing.  Me, not so much.  Not picked again.  After a few minutes, I realized the team didn’t need another person building.  I stepped back and looked for another way to serve.  I slipped away (no one noticed) and bought some pizza and drinks.  Everyone appreciated my contribution.  Instead of sulking when picked last, be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve.  Jesus told us the path to greatness runs through servant hood.

Life will present many opportunities for you to forgotten and left out.  How you handle these situations will make a great difference in the trajectory of your life.  You can grow bitter or better.  Find your gifts, grow them, work hard, serve and cheer others, and you will find a lot of people will want you for their team!

Three Strategies for Raising Kids with Character

As a father of four kids, I want to address a great need in our world — kids with character.

I want my children to achieve greatness with their life. Kim and I have pushed them to succeed academically. We have encouraged each of them to flourish in an art and a sport. Many parents want their students to flourish in these ways, however, if they lack character, their success in other areas will leave them deeply flawed. Our nation doesn’t need any more educated brats or athletic punks. Our culture creates a challenging environment that feeds the narcissistic lusts of human nature making it a challenge to raise kids with character.

There are, however, some strategies to help you guide them in their character development.

1. Model character in the context of relationship.

You cannot lead where you do not go. You must model character. The home is the first, and most important, learning environment. If you can’t control your temper, if you have a porn stash, if you cheat at business, don’t expect your children to do better. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And the words, “Do as I say, not as I do” ring hollow.

Let your kids see you praying. Let them see you wrestle with ethical dilemmas. Let them see you making positive moral choices. Then invite your children into your world at age appropriate times to watch you do the right thing. Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.

2. The number one enemy is the wrong crowd. Bad company corrupts good morals.  

 Buddy Scott has worked as a youth therapist for many years. He has specialized in young people struggling with major character issues – stealing, harming others, runaways, and rebels. In his book, “Relief for Hurting Parents,” he says the number one enemy for your child is the wrong crowd. I have interviewed many people for my writings. I have watched the choices and consequences of many lives in 24 years of ministry, and when I listen to the stories of people who end up at my office trying to get their life back together they all have this phrase in common, “I started hanging out with the wrong crowd.”

Proximity equals influence. Eugene Rivers, a Pentecostal minister in one of Boston’s toughest neighborhoods, moved into the city from the suburbs. Trying to learn the neighborhood, he sought out a local gang leader and drug dealer named Selvin Brown. He was a tough talking, sassy, inner city gun-slinger. Selvin showed the good pastor around the neighborhood and gave him a lesson as to why God was losing and gangs were winning the battle for souls of inner-city kids

In one sentence he explained it: “I’m here when Johnny goes out for a loaf of bread for Mamma, I’m there when Johnny goes to school and when he comes home from school. I’m there, you’re not, I win, you lose. It’s all about being there.” Make sure you are there for you kids. And make sure you know their associations. It’s okay for you to show up at their school and have lunch with your child and their friends. It’s okay for you to follow up on where they said they were going and who they are with. You are the parent. Protect them from poor influences.

3. Teach moral principles based on God’s nature

God has given us a moral law that – just like physical laws – govern our world. He has also given us a will in order that He can rule in love. These moral laws are not arbitrary. They are rooted in His nature and character. Therefore, when you train your children, help them see the bigger picture so that they understand that God gave us moral laws to help us live well in the world He created.

I recently watched a public figure answer a question regarding a certain behavior. She was challenged on it and replied, “Well, that’s how I was raised.” What she doesn’t understand is that the moral law is not dependent upon how we were raised. Right and wrong exist independently of how we were raised. Being raised by thieves doesn’t make stealing right.

Right and wrong are rooted in God’s character. Lying is wrong because God is truth. We have fair and unfair because God is just. Sexual immorality is wrong because God is loving, pure and faithful. These things are not wrong because the Bible says they are wrong. The Bible says they are wrong because the Bible reflects God’s character. Whatever does not correspond to God’s character is not true, moral, or right. Therefore, making poor choices will lead to a fractured relationship with God and others, violate our purpose and lead poor consequences.

When we model right decision-making, guard our children from poor influences, and give them the larger picture of right and wrong, they will have a greater opportunity to allow their talents to propel them to greatness without the hindrances of poor character.  Stay tuned for more on this as we honor the role of the father.

Dear Daughter, Lets Talk About Boys and Clothes, Pt. 2

modesty pic alli

Dear Daughter,

I want to follow up with our previous conversation about clothes. Recall that I mentioned spring is arriving and with it proms, passions, and new fashions. You’re old enough now to be aware of the world around you. You may have noticed that the world contains funny, awkward, smelly and sometimes cute boys. These creatures have weird powers to influence you to dress, talk, or act certain ways. I’m writing this short series of notes to let you in on the secret mind of the male as it relates to how you dress and act. Most girls do not understand what I am about to tell you. Consequently, they dress, talk, and act in ways that will cause the opposite effect they are going for. I want to share with you what guys think about what girls wear and give you insight into the positive power of modesty.

God has gifted you with the power of femininity.  The power to inspire, motivate, and encourage. To use your God-given femininity to refresh the world around you and lift others up.   This power, value, and dignity is the target of a cultural attack that wants to steal natural beauty and innocence from you by eliminating your sense of modesty and decorum. Don’t let them define you. You are valuable enough as a person without having to show parts of your body to people who have not one shred of investment into your life.  Save that for someone who has made a life-long covenant to lay down their life for your well- being and growth.

Now, what I am about to tell you is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the realm of masculinity.  This is one of those instincts that God wired us with and you won’t hear this in too many other places.   What guys value they cover. What they don’t they won’t So when we see something covered, we naturally think “This is to be valued and protected, loved and cherished.” When we see something uncovered, we naturally think, “This is to be played with, possibly mistreated, and destroyed for my pleasure.”

Even from when we were little boys, we had this in us.  Boys collect things.  We collect bugs, reptiles, comic books, and sports cards.   The sports cards that we loved — our favorite players or the ones that had some real value — we covered.  We put them in little plastic covers so they wouldn’t be damaged.  If our little brother got a hold of them, we would wrestle him down to protect that precious card.

The ones we didn’t care about? Well, we did other things with those.  We put them in the spokes of our bikes to make it sound like we had a motorcycle.   Oh, it would destroy the card, but it sure made our bikes sound cool!

Take cars, for example. Most guys like cars.  They are attracted to different kinds of cars.  Every summer there are thousands of guys that flock to the fairgrounds to see cars smashed up in the demolition derby until the last one is running.  I love it!  These cars are playthings.  They are to be used abused for our pleasure and fun, then thrown away so we can get another one.

And then there are other cars we also like. Classic, beautiful, expensive sports cars.  If a guys is fortunate enough to get one of these.  You can tell.  They walk around with a smile on their face.  They think often of her and give it a special name.  They speak about her in hushed and reverent tones.  You won’t find him entering THAT car into the demolition derby.  In fact, when he invites you over to see it, you will approach his house and not see the car because it will be covered by the garage.  Maybe even a separate garage built just for the car.  You will open the garage door and the first thing you see will not be the car, it will be the cover.  Upon removing the cover, you will see the car.  This is a car he values, cherishes, he protects.mustang

Which car would you rather be?  The demolition derby car or the highly valued sports car?   Your dress and demeanor as a young woman will trigger one of these two instincts in a guy.  What they see uncovered, they think, “toy to be destroyed for my pleasure.”  What they see covered, they think “valuable, worthy of protection, something I want to keep.”  Now keep this in mind as well.  Some boys don’t have the maturity or character to appreciate the valuable car.  Don’t be surprised if THOSE kind of boys walk away when you won’t let them play with you like a derby car.  They will, unfortunately, spend their lives destroying rather than covering those around them.  I’m just trying to make sure you are not included in that mix.

What does that mean to you?  Simply this:  If you want to be valued, dress modestly.  If you want to be thought of as cheap, low-end, bargain goods to be played with and then discarded – well – dress immodestly.

How you act and how you dress is an outward reflection of an inward heart.  A pure heart, will come out in a pure dress.  A heart to please God over what the herd in our culture is dressing like will show in your dress.   A heart that cares about honoring God more than trying to fit in, is very rare. Because it is rare, those who possess it are very attractive indeed.

You are beautiful like a rose.  You cannot force a rose to bloom, but I’ve seen many a beautiful young lady try to rush the process of growing up.  They try to force open the bud but they only destroy it in the process.  If you will be patient, learn to honor God with your heart which will be reflected in your dress and conduct, your beauty will unfold in God’s time and your fragrance will enrich the world.

 

Love,

Dad

 

 

 

Dear Daughter, Lets Talk About Boys and Clothes, Pt. 2

modesty pic alli

Dear Daughter,

I want to follow up with our previous conversation about clothes. Recall that I mentioned spring is arriving and with it proms, passions, and new fashions. You’re old enough now to be aware of the world around you. You may have noticed that the world contains funny, awkward, smelly and sometimes cute boys. These creatures have weird powers to influence you to dress, talk, or act certain ways. I’m writing this short series of notes to let you in on the secret mind of the male as it relates to how you dress and act. Most girls do not understand what I am about to tell you. Consequently, they dress, talk, and act in ways that will cause the opposite effect they are going for. I want to share with you what guys think about what girls wear and give you insight into the positive power of modesty.

God has gifted you with the power of femininity.  The power to inspire, motivate, and encourage. To use your God-given femininity to refresh the world around you and lift others up.   This power, value, and dignity is the target of a cultural attack that wants to steal natural beauty and innocence from you by eliminating your sense of modesty and decorum. Don’t let them define you. You are valuable enough as a person without having to show parts of your body to people who have not one shred of investment into your life.  Save that for someone who has made a life-long covenant to lay down their life for your well- being and growth.

Now, what I am about to tell you is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the realm of masculinity.  This is one of those instincts that God wired us with and you won’t hear this in too many other places.   What guys value they cover. What they don’t they won’t So when we see something covered, we naturally think “This is to be valued and protected, loved and cherished.” When we see something uncovered, we naturally think, “This is to be played with, possibly mistreated, and destroyed for my pleasure.”

Even from when we were little boys, we had this in us.  Boys collect things.  We collect bugs, reptiles, comic books, and sports cards.   The sports cards that we loved — our favorite players or the ones that had some real value — we covered.  We put them in little plastic covers so they wouldn’t be damaged.  If our little brother got a hold of them, we would wrestle him down to protect that precious card.

The ones we didn’t care about? Well, we did other things with those.  We put them in the spokes of our bikes to make it sound like we had a motorcycle.   Oh, it would destroy the card, but it sure made our bikes sound cool!

Take cars, for example. Most guys like cars.  They are attracted to different kinds of cars.  Every summer there are thousands of guys that flock to the fairgrounds to see cars smashed up in the demolition derby until the last one is running.  I love it!  These cars are playthings.  They are to be used abused for our pleasure and fun, then thrown away so we can get another one.

And then there are other cars we also like. Classic, beautiful, expensive sports cars.  If a guys is fortunate enough to get one of these.  You can tell.  They walk around with a smile on their face.  They think often of her and give it a special name.  They speak about her in hushed and reverent tones.  You won’t find him entering THAT car into the demolition derby.  In fact, when he invites you over to see it, you will approach his house and not see the car because it will be covered by the garage.  Maybe even a separate garage built just for the car.  You will open the garage door and the first thing you see will not be the car, it will be the cover.  Upon removing the cover, you will see the car.  This is a car he values, cherishes, he protects.mustang

Which car would you rather be?  The demolition derby car or the highly valued sports car?   Your dress and demeanor as a young woman will trigger one of these two instincts in a guy.  What they see uncovered, they think, “toy to be destroyed for my pleasure.”  What they see covered, they think “valuable, worthy of protection, something I want to keep.”  Now keep this in mind as well.  Some boys don’t have the maturity or character to appreciate the valuable car.  Don’t be surprised if THOSE kind of boys walk away when you won’t let them play with you like a derby car.  They will, unfortunately, spend their lives destroying rather than covering those around them.  I’m just trying to make sure you are not included in that mix.

What does that mean to you?  Simply this:  If you want to be valued, dress modestly.  If you want to be thought of as cheap, low-end, bargain goods to be played with and then discarded – well – dress immodestly.

How you act and how you dress is an outward reflection of an inward heart.  A pure heart, will come out in a pure dress.  A heart to please God over what the herd in our culture is dressing like will show in your dress.   A heart that cares about honoring God more than trying to fit in, is very rare. Because it is rare, those who possess it are very attractive indeed.

You are beautiful like a rose.  You cannot force a rose to bloom, but I’ve seen many a beautiful young lady try to rush the process of growing up.  They try to force open the bud but they only destroy it in the process.  If you will be patient, learn to honor God with your heart which will be reflected in your dress and conduct, your beauty will unfold in God’s time and your fragrance will enrich the world.

 

Love,

Dad

 

 

 

Dear Daughter, Let’s Talk About Boys and Clothes Pt. I

Modesty

Dear Daughter,

Spring is arriving and with it proms, passions, and new fashions. You’re old enough now to be aware of the world around you. You may have noticed that the world contains funny, awkward, smelly, and sometimes, cute boys. These creatures have weird powers to influence you to dress, talk, or act certain ways. I’m writing this short series of notes to let you in on the secret mind of the male as it relates to how you dress and act. Most girls do not understand what I am about to tell you. Consequently, they dress, talk, and act in ways that will cause the opposite effect they are searching for. I want to share with you what guys think about what girls wear and give you insight into the positive power of modesty.

This message is so vital for you because society is telling you that to be feminine is to be erotic.  Sociologists are calling this phenomenon the pornographication of our girls. If you buy into this lie, you will try to find power in sexual appeal but what you won’t see is that you simply become a tool for some man’s selfish gratification. This power is fleeting, for in the exchange, you lose the dignity and value that is your deepest desire.  And you will resemble God less and less; losing the very basis of your dignity.

Because men are relatively simple, they can be pretty predictable.  God has wired them internally to respond almost subconsciously to certain situations, not the least of which is how girls dress.  God has wired men to be visually-oriented.  Much of the input that comes into their brain comes through their eyes.

When we are around females, (which is much of the time because they consist of half the world’s population.) we not only see with our eyes, we think with our eyes.  We are highly tuned to two things: beauty and conquest.  We want a beauty to rescue and a challenge to conquer.  This is how we are wired.  How you dress and present yourself will tap into these instincts. You can harness these traits with the power of your femininity to your advantage or let them work against you.  It’s your choice to make.

Because guys are wired to respond visually; females can get attention by dressing immodestly.  Immodesty does have the power of attraction.  However, you must be careful what you attract. Immodesty has great power to draw males with predatory instincts.

Predators think mostly of themselves and their gratification and they don’t care who they hurt along the way.  Princes, on the other hand, are strong, godly guys who want nothing more than to spend their lives on behalf of the people and principles that are important to them.

Immodesty does have the power of attraction, but it’s the predators you’ll attract.

Modesty however, has the power to attract men of princely character, as well as the extra power of retention.  The girl that has the strength of character to dress modestly wherever she goes — at school, the beach, the mall — has great power to keep the attention and interest of the right kind of guys. Because she is confident that her beauty is not only vested in her body, but her mind and her soul as well. This is a girl who will grow more beautiful as she ages. This type of girl is highly attractive to the prince.

I spent a year studying and filming regarding this topic.  We finished with a short documentary called “What Guys Think About What Girls Wear.”  One of the questions we asked guys was: When you see a girl dressed immodestly, are what are your thoughts toward her? Do your thoughts lend themselves to a long term relationship or short term?  Every boy said, “Short term.”

What I found is that guys look at girls that are immodest and they make instant judgments, “thinking with their eyes.”  When we asked, “What are your initial thoughts regarding a girl who is dressed immodestly?” here were some of the responses:

“They have a need that they have unmet in their life, maybe something they didn’t get from their father, like love and acceptance.”

“She has a complex about the way she looks and is trying to reveal herself in other ways to attract attention.”

“Need for attention; bad judgment”

“…maybe immoral (easy), snap judgment, she’s immoral, or maybe insecure, trying to show off.”

“Crying for attention”

That she’s immoral (easy), doesn’t care about herself, trashy, just a woman, property to be owned.”

Miuccia Prada, who runs the fashion empire, Prada, spoke about this in an interview in GQ magazine,

 “With women, the more unhappy they are, the more undressed they are. This is true. Dignity’s another very important part of this…You have to have dignity for your body—this is with men and women. You need to have dignity towards how you are, how you dress, how you behave. Very important.”

How you act and how you dress is simply an outward reflection of your inward attitude.  If your outward appearance screams “needy, immoral, insecure,” guy’s that have their act together will not want anything to do with you. You will be perceived as too much drama.  Guys that see an opportunity for sexual gratification, however, will put up with the drama for a while, then move on.

Let me add that this is no attempt to let guys off the hook.  They, too, must possess the self-control and discipline necessary to reflect godly character.  Each of us must do our part to reflect Christ in this broken culture.  But as a father, my heart is to protect you and help you understand how to safely walk through this season of your life.  We will talk more about this later. This is enough to chew on for now. God has gifted you with the power of femininity, allow it to blossom in healthy ways and your fragrance will enrich the world.

There is No Pill for “Can’t”

I’ve recently been working as a tutor and self-defense instructor for a group of junior-high and high- school boys through the Joseph Center. The Joseph CeGame in a mobile phone is more interesting, than on the pianonter is a ministry devoted to helping boys mature into men who know who they are as sons (adopted by their heavenly Father), leaders, lovers, protectors and providers. More than once I’ve come home grieved at where they are as young men. (Not all of them for sure. But enough to spot a trend.)

It comes down to this: There is no pill for “can’t.” 

My partners and I do our best to challenge and call them up to the level of their potential but more often than not we are thwarted by a blockage in their mind of “can’t.” One day after class, one of our leaders said of one boy, “It’s my goal this entire semester to get (boys name) to stop making excuses. Every time I ask him to do something, he has an excuse why he can’t.”

Winners find a way, losers find an excuse.

Somewhere along the line for these boys, “can’t” became convenient. “I’m not a good test taker.” “I’m not good at math.” “I have ADD.” “I’m not a good reader.” One after another, the excuses flow from their mouths like well-rehearsed lines of some kind of mantra.

While each of these boys deal with complex situations at home, somewhere early in their life, the adults stopped expending the energy to expect excellence and started tolerating excuses for poor performance. Yes, it takes energy to expect and even more energy to inspect. But the adults in a child’s life — starting with the PARENTS — must create a culture where “can’t” is a dirty word. God has given each of these boys incredible potential. Many will graduate below grade level in every subject because somewhere in their life people stopped expecting and they started tolerating mediocrity and worse.

We have found ways to medicate and pacify our young men but I have news – you can’t medicate “can’t”. You can only lay out healthy, high expectations and strong, real consequences for not meeting them. Many of these boys struggle with basic math – addition, multiplication, and so forth. Most of these boys suffer not from ADD but from “Lazy Brain Syndrome.” They do not struggle because they are mentally impaired, they struggle because somebody gave up on them and allowed them to settle for “can’t” because “smart” is hard.

If your son cannot read and perform basic skills then you have the power to stop their life until they get it right. It is not the teacher’s fault. They don’t go home with your son. Pull out their pacifier (television, the internet and video games) and pull out the old-fashioned flash cards and get busy. I don’t care if they’re bored. I don’t care if they whine. No dinner before we drill the 12-multiplication family! You control the food supply! Their room has a door and a circuit breaker, doesn’t it? The door can come off and the breaker can be switched off! Switch off the breaker and switch on their brain! They will need it! And we need them to bring forth their talents to bless the world!

A young man walked in today for the tutoring session with a comic book. I said, “What’s this?” “Homework,” he said. “They let you read a comic book for literature class?” came my astounded reply.  “Yup, because the other books bore me.” Somewhere along the line, a teacher and a parent said that this boy’s entertainment is more important than his education. We have lowered the bar.

Last week during my mentoring session with a third-grade boy, the teacher suggested we play the “calculator game.” I asked, “What’s the calculator game?”  “You get a dry erase board, the student gets a calculator and he calls out math problems and you race to see who can get the answer faster.” I questioned, “You mean, I get the calculator and he gets the dry-erase board?“No, he gets the calculator and you get the dry-erase board.” My reply, “I already passed the third grade.” I took the dry-erase board and left the room grieved as the young man used the calculator to solve 10 + 3.

I realize not everyone has the same academic capacity. I recognize the classroom is not suited for all learning styles, but no learning, no achievement, no success will come with “can’t” in the way.

A generation ago, men rode on the end of a missile all the way to the moon using a slide-rule and some guts. Now, too many of our children have people in their lives that have fooled them into thinking that a productive, healthy life can be carved out on this rock without, blood, sweat, and tears. And the students have trained the adults in their life to lower the bar so they can step over it without straining themselves — they just say the magic words, “I can’t.”