Spiders and the Web of Fear

So, I'm driving home the other day...

It was a great day to drive home with my car windows down. Radio was up. I was singing... loudly. The people in the car next to me were staring as I pulled up to a stop light. As I was in the middle of doing a drum solo on my steering wheel, this little thing caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. As it was running across my windshield, out of reach of my wipers, I audibly said, "Noooo," in a slow motion type of voice. (At least that's what it sounded like to me.) At that point, it was a race. A race to see if I could get my windows up faster than a spider could get inside my car. Luckily for me, I won. The spider was denied entrance into my vehicle.

But for the next 40 minutes, on my way home, I chose to drive with my windows up. I really wanted to enjoy the weather. I so wanted to have my windows down to enjoy the fresh air. But I let a fear of spiders win out. I let the fear of something so small prevent me from doing something I really wanted to do.

I've noticed something, I've let this happen in other areas of my life as well. I've let fear be the determining factor in whether or not I do something I know God is asking me to do. I've let fear prevent me from trying new things. I've let fear prevent me from being the person that God's called me to be. I've seen it in my kids, Carter and Morgan. I've seen it happen in the lives of students. And it sucks. Because, in the end, for me at least, I look back in disappointment and sadness. I look back with regret. But, that's what fear does. It traps us in its sticky web and sucks the life out of us.

You see...

I could have crushed the spider had he entered my car. He was a lot smaller than me. It wouldn't have even been a match. But I let fear rule my world for that 40 minutes. And I've let fear rule my world in bigger areas of my life and endeavors.

But, here's the thing...

God can crush whatever we're afraid of - whatever fear that holds us captive. But we've got to open the window and let God do what God does. Because that fear, whatever it is, is a lot smaller than God. It's not even a match.

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7 (Amplified) 

Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:3-4 (NIV)

One last thing... I've noticed that when I'm letting fear rule my life, I'm making it out to be about me. When in reality, this life isn't about me - it's about God. Everything I have... everything I have to offer... talents and abilities... comes from God. And when I turn my focus off of me and focus on God, my fear turns off.


The Right Tool

I've had a couple of cars in my time that needed a "specialty tool" to open things up.

The last car that needed a "specialty tool" was our Honda Civic. It was a great car. It served us well. But I needed a pair of pliers, specifically needle nose pliers, to open the hood to this car.

The thing that you would typically pull to open a car hood had broken. So, if I didn't have these pliers, I couldn't open the hood.

It's a tool that's not typically thought of to open the hood of a car. Yet, it's the only tool that would open my car's hood. I knew this, because I drove that car. It was my car. You wouldn't have necessarily known that you needed to use something different to open up my car's hood unless you looked closely. I only knew how to open it up because I was in it everyday, I knew my car and what it needed to open it up.

And, here's the thing...

This is true when it comes to students... when it comes to our own kids. Each student is different. You can't always use the same tools on every student you come in contact with. Morgan is very different from Carter. I can't talk to them the same way. The words I use. The tone. The jokes. If I want to connect with both of them, I need to find what works with them. How I like to connect isn't necessarily the same for Carter or Morgan.

You have to use what works. You have to work to find connection points. Connection points that are ever changing... because our students and kids are growing up. And the only way to know that, is to get to know your students. To take the time to get to know our ever-changing kids. To look closely into their lives and be with them.

If you do that, you'll discover what you need to open up their lives to you. I can't promise that it will be easy or that it won't take time. It's tough. It's hard. Sometimes you'll be frustrated. But as parents, as youth leaders, it's our job to not give up. It's our job to push forward and to love them through the tough points. Because in the end, everything that is worth it is rarely easy. And if nothing else, take heart in knowing you're not alone. Keep pushing. They're worth it.


The Rosco P. Coltrane Hot Pursuit

I love the Duke's of Hazzard.

Especially Rosco P. Coltrane, when he says, "I'm in hot pursuit!"

The dude is hilarious. But all too often, I find I'm just like him... chasing hard after something I really want.

As I was looking at the 10 Commandments before Covid, it hit me...

"I am so worn out. Just exhausted."

Now this could be the result of a couple of things...

Lack of sleep. Not eating right. Lack of exercise. Work schedule plus the kids' activity schedule.

But more times than not, it's because

I'm

Not

Following

The

First Commandment...

"You must not have any other god but Me." - Exodus 20:3 

More times than not, when I'm exhausted, it's because I'm chasing after other gods in my life other than the One True God.

-Acceptance from my kids
-Success in my job
-Success with money
-Performance in a sport
-Parenting my kids

The list could go on and on. And it's a list of a hot pursuit of "other gods" - Like Rosco chasing after the Duke Boys... I get exhausted chasing something I rarely ever catch.

But...

The 10 Commandments isn't simply a list of do's and don'ts - right's and wrongs - laws... it's a glimpse into the heart of God. God doesn't want me to simply keep Him first (whatever that means) because He's got a big ego, He wants me to pursue Him because that pursuit brings life and not exhaustion.

So what's your "Rosco P. Coltrane" hot pursuit?

Why not switch it up and get in hot pursuit with God?


I Don't Like this Song

Morgan loves riding in the Jeep... like LOVES it.

If it's nice out, she wants to ride everywhere in it, especially to her dance classes. And not only does she want to ride in it, we have to have the radio up loud... especially when we pull up to drop her off.

So yesterday, as we got closer to dropping her off, it became apparent that Morgan "needed" the right song to roll up on. As we approached the last two stoplights, wrong song after wrong song came on. Then commercials. What were we going to do?

As we rolled through the last green light, in my mind I thought, "Well, if we don't have a good song, I'll just drive down the street and turn around... we have time for that." I pushed a button that played a song... "Dad, I don't like that song. It's boring." I pushed another button, "No dad, not that song." As I pushed the third button I realized it was a commercial, so I kept going past her dance studio.

"Dad, you just passed my studio." As I turned in the next entrance, I said, "Uhhhhhhh, I know Morgan. I was trying to pull up with a song on." At which point I pushed the button back to the first station to which she said, "Oh ya! I love this song, let's go." I shook my head, laughed and reminded her that she just said that she didn't like this song because it was boring.

But we kept it on as we pulled up to drop her off... unfortunately for her, nobody was out front as we pulled in to an empty parking lot. It was all for nothing...

We just shook our head and laughed. There really was no other response. It's kinda like when your toddler likes peanut butter and jelly one day, then the next they hate it. I can be like that at times. Everyone can really. Changing your mind isn't a bad thing necessarily. It's simply knowing what you want and what you don't want.

It's ok when it comes to things like this. But when it comes to commitments, not so much. That's one thing as parents Jami and I try to get our kids to understand. When you commit to something, you either finish it out, or you better have a great reason why you need to end the commitment... then end it respectfully. Too many times we try to take the easy way out of the commitments we make... whether it's with work, a sports team, a commitment with a friend or a relationship commitment.

It seems like "changing your mind" is a strength when it comes to commitments. But that's just not true. With where the world is at today, one of the things that Jami and I want our kids to learn, is the honor of following through with the commitments one makes. It's not easy all the time, but it's a legacy that is important to leave behind.


Handcuffed to the Garage

Growing up, we used to stay out late playing in the neighborhood.

I know! Kids actually played outside! At night! Until we were exhausted! Some nights it was Ghost in the Graveyard. Other nights it was Kick the Can. Still, other nights, we simply climbed trees and stayed out talking about anything and everything.

One of the favorite games we played in the neighborhood was, "Guns." There were a lot of kids in our neighborhood. Me and my two younger brothers would go knock on doors to get everyone gathered up. Each kid would bring their toy gun. Some would make noises and some wouldn't. That was ok because it simply meant that the shooting noise would simply be made with our mouth.

Once we got everyone gathered, it was time to pick teams. The three Ruth boys would always be on one team. And we'd have a few more to pick. Once teams were set, each team would part their ways and find their home base. Once each team had their base, the game was on.

It. Was. A. Blast. We felt like we were hunting the enemy. We'd crawl on the ground from bush to bush. We'd hide in unlocked cars that weren't our parents. Hiding under front porches that weren't our homes was just fine too. Then, once the enemy walked by, we'd jump out and... "Pew" "Pew" "Pew." Ok, that's not actually the sound I would make... that's impossible to type here. But we'd jump out and shoot the enemy, then take them back to our base because it just happened to be a flesh wound and not a shot to the head.

During more times than not, out base was our garage that was behind our house and opened up to the alley. It wasn't attached to our house, and it had windows on three sides. Once we had the captured enemy at our base, the interrogation began.

Where are your teammates?

Where are they hiding?

Where is your base?

Unfortunately for this enemy combatant, he didn't feel like answering. So, like any smart (and cold-hearted) soldier, we took his handcuffs off (he was handcuffed with his hands in the back), and placed them back on so that his hands were in front of him. Now you might think we were being nice. You would be wrong. We did that so that he could raise his hands above his head.

This wasn't a move of generosity. No. We needed to be able to hook his handcuffed hands to the garage door. You might be thinking we didn't want him to escape when we left to find the other enemies. Again, you'd be wrong. You see, we asked him very specific questions. Easy questions. Questions he refused to answer. So to get him to tell us where his base was, we hooked his handcuffed hands to the garage and began to slowly lift the garage door up.

"Where's your base?" No answer? Ok. Raise the garage door. "Where's your base?" Nothing again? Ok. We raised it again. This kid's feet were nearly five feet off the ground before he told us where his base was. After he told us, we lowered the garage door but kept him hooked up until we were able to confirm it was true. Once we did, we took the base and won that game.

That kid didn't speak to us for some time. But it was worth it, we won that game. And when we captured someone else and asked where their base was, they answered right away after that game.

Looking back on those times is fun. We didn't really hurt anyone... badly. But remembering stories like this gets me thinking a little bit...

You see, this kid could have been released from the handcuffs right away if he would have simply answered the questions we had for him. How many times in my life have I handcuffed myself by the decisions I've made. Because I've been stubborn. Because I've been selfish. Because I wanted things my way. Sometimes, we handcuff ourselves in life. Sometimes it's our fault. Handcuffs like when we fight with our spouse or our children.

We've all handcuffed ourselves at some point or another. But the beautiful thing is, as long as you have breath, you still have a chance to remove those handcuffs by God's grace. While people may give up on us, God never will. He can free us from the handcuffs we've placed on our own wrists when we place our faith and trust in Him.

"He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness and broke away their chains." Psalm 107:14


The Slap Heard Around the Plane

I love watching other parents parent their children...

I really do. So when I saw this couple sit down in front of Jami and I with what looked like a five year old boy and a three year old boy on the plane ride back from vacation I was... well... excited.

I know, I know. I was a little nervous too. Because as the family walked down the aisle of the plane to find their seats it was clear who ran the show. But I was hoping that we didn't get the "screamer" type of children. And from the looks of it, I didn't think they were.

From the moment they sat down, the show was on... the dad couldn't get situated and put his things away before the demanding boss of a three year old demanded he get his iPad set up. "Billy," (real name not used), just wait sweetie. I need to put my bag above..." "Ok Billy, I need you to..." Father now leaves his bag in the aisle blocking the path for other passengers. "Is that the movie you want sweetie?" "Sir, I need you to put your bag away." Now coming from the flight attendant. The poor father's head looked like it was on a swivel.

The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful with the kids going back and forth between the aisle to get to the mother who was pretty much hands off.

Then came the landing in Chicago. The line up for landing was kind of bumpy. Seatbelts were supposed to be fastened. Three year old Billy was sitting on one side of the plane with dad and the five year old on the other side with mom. As the plane was getting ready to land, bumps and all, little Billy decided he didn't want to sit with dad anymore. "I want to sit with mom," Billy demanded. "No sweetie, you have to stay in your seat."

Billy wasn't having it. His demands getting louder the second and third time. "If you get out of your seat, you'll get in trouble with the flight attendant," dad said. Well, that only made little Billy angry. Now screaming at his dad, I could hear the sound of the metal clips beginning to unlatch. After unbuckling himself, Billy stands up in his seat and begins to walk towards his mom. His dad reaches out to grab him to pull him back, but somehow Billy escapes and dad gives up.

As little Billy crosses the aisle to mom, he begins to dance and sing, "Nah nah nah. I'm sitting with moooommmm." And the dad did nothing... worse, he just looked defeated. And in my head, I couldn't help but wonder what everyday living looked like for that family.

And I was able to get a glimpse 10 minutes later as we were waiting to get off the plane.

You see, Billy wasn't done. As we were all getting our things together, that family was trying to gather up their items as well. Mom needed to pack up her carryon bag but needed Billy to move. The problem... he wasn't moving. So, mom gave dad a look. And that look prompted dad to pick little Billy up. The problem... Billy didn't want to be picked up. So Billy said no and...

Billy

Slapped

His

Dad

In

His

Face

In my head I thought, "Daaaaaannnnnnngggggggg. Dad just got pimped slapped by a three year old." The slap was so hard that everyone three seats away from this father turned and looked, waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Nothing. Nothing happened. He simply put him down and picked up his bag, and continued waiting for his wife to get her things together.

I don't know anything about this family other than what I witnessed on this flight. If I was forced to guess, I would say that their children run the house.

Then I started to think about my own kids, and me as a dad. I would have never allowed my kid to essentially Bi$#% slap me without a consequence (or a bodyslam in return). But I definitely don't have it all together. There are times where I say no only to give in later. There are times where I give consequences and then don't hold to them. Those times are few and far between, but they happen. Watching this reminded me how important it is to correct and hold my children accountable for their behavior each and every time. Consistent consequences are super important for children, and in the end, I need to do my best to help them become responsible adults... one day at a time, even when I get tired.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. Proverbs 22:6


One Thing You Need to Make a Difference

If you want to make a difference...

If you want to make a difference...

Have More Conversation.

If you want to better your marriage...

Have More Conversation.

If you want to be a better parent...

Have More Conversation.

If you want to be a better friend...

Have More Conversation.

If you want to have peace...

Have More Conversation.

I think I need to...

Have More Conversation.

You?


The Jeep Wave

The Jeep Wave... it's a real thing...

It's one of the things that I love most about owning a Jeep. We can literally be driving down the road and as we pass another Jeep Wrangler driving by, both of us wave at each other. Essentially, we show each other some love.

I wasn't alive during the 60's, so I only have 44 years to reference from. But this day, more than ever, seems like our country is divided in every area. Everywhere we look we can see hate. The news. Hate. Social media. Hate. I watch the way people debate and hear the things that are being said... hate and more hate. We are not the United States of America at this point... We are the Divided States of America... in almost every corner... except the Jeep.

I know this seems funny and maybe even trite to say, but riding in a Jeep is a connection point to people. It doesn't matter who passes by, there's always a wave. Two very different individuals enjoying the same type of thing waving at and being good to each other. This past weekend I really took notice of who was in the Jeep passing by each other. We passed by white drivers... wave. We passed by black drivers... wave. Latino drivers... wave. Young drivers... wave. Older drivers... wave. It didn't make any difference who was driving our Jeeps... we all waved at each other.

But seriously, this got me thinking. What if this was the picture of the church? What if this was the picture of America? What if the body of Christ all came together and was good to each other? What if America came together and was good to each other? Democrats? Republicans? Can it happen? I think it can. And it starts with me.

That's the message I'm trying to send to my own children. The answer doesn't lie in social media. It doesn't lie in cute posts that point to someone else's post. It's not found in me telling someone else what they should or shouldn't do. My message to my own children is best taught by my actions... by

Doing.

The.

Next.

Right.

Thing.

What conquers hate? Jesus and living my life how He lived His. But maybe you're not ready to do that yet... so the next best thing that conquers hate is doing the next right thing... whatever that may be.

I have, and will continue to do the next right thing. I hope you will too.


I Hate Thomas the Train

I hate Thomas the Train.

Ok. Hate may be a strong word. And... who could really hate Thomas the Train. After all, he's a cute train. I mean, he smiles all the time.

So, fine. Maybe I don't really hate Thomas. But, I'm not a fan of his message... "I think I can. I think I can. I think I ca..." The message, "If you put your mind to it, you can do anything" sucks. Right now, I'm putting my mind into being a 2nd baseman for the Chicago Cubs. But it ain't gonna happen... no matter how hard I try. The, "I think I can" method just won't work here.

There's another place where it won't work either... my parenting. I try to be patient. I try to be loving. I try to be gentle. I try to be kind. I try and I try because I think I can. I think I can. But too many times... I can't.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23

There's a reason why it's not called, "The fruit of Todd Ruth." Because I can't... not apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. Not apart from God. If I'm simply trying to be these things by myself, (a great parent, a great husband, a great friend, a great brother, a good son) it's just not gonna happen. There's a reason why Jesus asked God to send a Helper (John 14:16)... because we can't live life how it's designed to be lived without help!

God knows that we can't be the parent our kids need us to be by our own power. He knows we'll fail over and over again. It's ok to fail. But it's not ok to stay in your failure.  So, instead of being so frustrated with trying so hard and failing, I'm resting in the fact that Jesus not only sent me a Helper, and you should too. He has also sent each other as helpers to help each other as well.

It's not, "I think I can, I think I can..." It's, God can.

P.S. Thomas the Train, no hard feelings, ok?


Ears Not Jeers

If I'm honest, quarantine really hasn't been all that difficult for our family.

We’ve been able to continue working and taking short excursions out to parks and the beach. Steven Furtick talked about a new normal. And I’m on board for that. I don’t want to go back to what normal was. Crazy kid schedules. Dinners on the go. Family-less time - meaning - while we were with each other, we were so preoccupied with other things that is wasn’t really quality time. This time in quarantine has really done something powerful…

It has brought us wholly back together.

This time in quarantine has also put a spotlight on an area we need to grow as a family as well.

Kindness.

There have been more times than I care to admit where I’ve had to redirect our kids’ words to each other or one of us because of their angry tone or flat out rude words. I can redirect calmly and collectedly for a period of time. But there’s a point that I hit where enough is enough and my tone and words reflect what I’m trying to correct in my kids. One evening in my “lighter moods” I redirected my kids’ rude and mean words to each other with a new saying… “Ears not jeers,” I said to one of them. You see, one of our kids thought he/she heard the other say something rude. So, out of revenge, that child said something rude back.

I had heard exactly what the first child had said. It was in fact, kind and encouraging. So because the second child heard wrong and said something rude back, I created a new saying…

“Ears not jeers.”

I come up with “sayings” a lot. They just seem to fly out of my mouth from nowhere. And this one seemed fitting. “Ears not jeers.”

A few days had come and gone. Kids were rude and mean again and again. “Man,” I thought, “This is just so discouraging. They keep not loving each other well.” For a parent, one of the most discouraging things is to witness their children not loving each other well… to be mean and rude to each other. To me, it just hurts to see that play out. At the time, I didn’t know what else to do. We had verbally corrected them. Grounded them from devices. Made them do an afternoon’s worth of chores. Early bedtimes. We even… get this… we even made them spend the night in each other’s rooms. Alternating nights, one would sleep in their bed while the other would sleep on the floor in a sleeping bed (I thought that was pretty funny). But still, more arguing. More fighting. More rudeness. More being unkind to each other.

Then it hit me.

Their behavior had become a habit.

Habits are routine. Habits happen over and over. Habits are easy. Habits are just what happens.

Their behavior had become a habit which had become normal.

And to break their habit, we had to replace that habitual behavior with something else… with a new habit. You see, it wasn’t enough to simply tell them to stop. It wasn’t enough to simply take something away that they knew they would get back eventually.

No. To break this habit meant that they needed to replace it with something else.

But what were we going to help them with to replace the habit?

Their habit, being unkind to their sibling, is ultimately a heart issue… HAM

It starts in their Heart which translates to their Attitude which then transponds out through their Mouth.

And in my opinion and experience, the thing that pierces and changes a person’s heart the most is the Bible. So one evening I told Jami that we needed to sit down and talk as a family. After dinner, we all stayed at the dinner table and Jami told the kids that we needed to talk about our attitudes. And I started to talk… my words to the kids as I looked at them in their eyes…

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not being kind all the time. I’m sorry for being frustrated as I’ve tried to correct you guys when you’ve been unkind. That’s not right. And I’m sorry.”

I didn’t notice it, but later, Jami told me that Carter’s mouth dropped and he shifted in his chair to listen. She said that she could see him physically open up to hear what I had to say. Had I not opened by apologizing the conversation and their behavior in the following days might have been different. What I said after, might have gone in one ear and out the other. Sometimes as parents, we need to initiate the apology. For me, a lot of times, I get caught up and focused on correcting their behavior… and rightly so. But there are times where it’s right and appropriate to own up to the mistakes we’ve made. That night was the right night for me. The kids didn’t expect it and I believe God used it to soften their hearts.

That wasn’t the end of the conversation. I then took my phone and went to the Bible app and read James 1:19-20... check it out:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

“Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” “Ears not Jeers…” Get it? The kids laughed when I said that after reading the verse.

It wasn’t enough for me to apologize. It wasn’t enough to simply have an after dinner discussion. Remember, this behavior, the words from their mouths, came from their attitudes which originated from their hearts. It had become a habit. So I wanted to replace it with something else. Not only did I read the verse, I let them know that we were going to memorize it.

God’s word is the replacement. Memorizing God’s word is the replacement for their habit. Being quick to listen. And slow to speak. And slow to anger. Memorizing James 1:19-20 and really letting that live within our hearts and minds is the exact right replacement for their habit... for our habit.

For the last week, we’ve been intentional about memorizing that verse. And I know it’s working. The rudeness and unkindness have been melting away. Will they be perfect? No. No one is. Will they be unkind again? Probably. But I want that to be the exception.

So now, when I say “Ears not jeers,” the kids are reminded of James 1:19-20.

Be quick to listen. Be slow to speak. Be slow to become angry. Because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.