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.


The Masks We Wear

I loved wearing masks when I was a kid... LOVED them!

It didn’t matter if it was Spiderman, Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Zorro. Whenever I could wear a mask, I would. Halloween was a highlight growing up because that meant I could get a new costume with inevitably came with a mask. But unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to wear it before October 31, no matter how hard I tried. I. Simply. Loved. Masks.

The thing about masks, for me, was that as soon as I put the mask on, I was instantly transformed into that hero. I was no longer Todd Ruth. No. My identity was Batman. Or Spiderman. Or my favorite, Zorro. And the garage at 242 Altgeld in South Bend, Indiana, was transformed into Zorro’s lair.

The era of me wearing masks had come and gone… until now. Now, I find myself having to wear a mask to walk into certain businesses. Before, I chose to wear masks and pretend I was someone else, protecting humanity at all cost. Now, I’m made to wear a mask if I want to enter certain businesses… to protect myself and humanity.

This isn’t a political statement. And I’m not arguing about the benefit or lack of benefit in wearing masks. No.

As I look back at my life, over the 44 years, I can see time and again how I wore certain masks to pretend I’m something I’m not… to pretend I’m something other than myself. Sometimes as a kid and as an adult, it was because I was self conscious of what I looked like. Sometimes it was because I was insecure about what people might think I am. Other times it was to fit in and gain the approval of others. All to protect myself.

I’ve seen this in myself. And I’ve seen this in my kids as well. Instead of physical masks, masks come in the form of social media. Photos we post (both adults and students). We hide behind our Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok profiles. Girls post photos of their bodies in an effort to gain approval and likes. Guys post photos of their cars or watches or anything that gains them more status in the eyes of their followers. It’s all masks. We wear masks to protect ourselves at all cost. And all of us have worn them at different times. We pretend we're something we're not. On and on and over and over we wear our mask only to lose who we really are and who God has called us to be.

One of the reasons I do TikTok videos with my daughter is in an effort to rip off any mask I may want to wear. It’s super clear that I can’t dance. And. I. Don’t. Care. I want my daughter to see that I’m posting content that shows who I truly am… no mask needed. And it's ok.

I want my kids to learn and know many things. But top of the list, I want them to know that…

They. Are. Enough… without masks.

I want them to find their identity in Jesus… not in a mask they might wear in search for acceptance.

When we find our identity in Jesus, no other mask is needed. Jesus tells us we are enough, not for anything we can do. No. We are enough because He is enough. And when we rest in that truth, peace and protection and love overcomes us and we no longer feel the need to wear a mask and we can live as God has called us to live.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” - John 1:12


A Week of Summer Hell

I hate running.

No. Let me rephrase that. I like the idea of running. But I don’t like the actual act of it. I will only run when I need an immediate mental challenge to overcome. I’m weird. I know that. There have been times in my life where I’ve needed an immediate mental challenge… so I ask myself, “I wonder if I can run seven miles?” For someone who runs long distances on a regular basis, this may not be that big of a feat. For someone who has never ran a mile in their life, seven miles would probably be impossible. For me, it’s not an impossible task. But I don’t run on a regular basis. Actually, I don’t really run at all unless I need that immediate mental challenge to overcome. I did though, run all four years in high school. But that almost didn’t happen.

You see, when I was growing up, my parents required that I play a fall and spring sport. I never really asked them why. I guess they were trying to take up my time to help keep me out of trouble. But that’s just a guess, and I don’t know how good of a guess it is. In any case, for me, football was out. (That’s a different story I’ll tell at a later date.) So instead of football, I chose to go out for cross country. Now I say “go out for” like there were some sort of cuts. Let’s be honest, there weren’t enough idiots like me who actually joined the cross country team.

So the summer before my freshman year at Riley High School (R. I. L. E. Y. Go Riley), I walked into the school “ready” for the first practice. The actual cross country meets were 3.1 miles in distance. What I learned real quick was that the cross country practices were five or six miles Monday through Friday during the summer. And the only time we ran less, was the day before a meet. The easy day, as the coach called it, was 3.1 miles. This presented a bit of a problem… right away. The farthest distance I had ran before that summer day was 270 feet… in other words, in baseball terms… that’s a triple. More likely for me, I would typically only run between 90 and 180 feet… a single or double. So, you can imagine what ran through my mind that first day.

Not gonna lie here. It sucked.

S. U. C. K. E. D.

That first day I barely ran a mile. Then I walked. When I saw coach, I picked it back up and again. Then, when he disappeared, I would walk again. Then, when he drove to the next check point, I would run again when he came into my view. You see, we didn’t practice on a track. We ran neighborhood’s on the South Side of South Bend, Indiana. So the coach had set up check points so that he could make sure that we weren’t getting lost along the six mile course.

I did this on Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. And Friday. It was super clear that I wasn’t giving my best effort. I actually didn’t really want to even be there. Give me a bat and a glove and a baseball, and I’ll give my all. But ask me to run six miles… forget that. But I was fulfilling what my parents were asking me to do… be in a fall sport.

The summer practice ended on Friday and I walked home. Finally, the week of hell had ended and I was ready for the weekend to rest up. What I didn’t know, was that as I was walking home, my cross country coach was on the phone ratting me out to my dad.

When I got home, my dad called me out onto the front porch. I can still remember where we sat on the front porch. My dad asked me how cross country practice was going. “Uh. um. It’s going good. Um, well. Ya, it’s good.” Clearly that wasn’t the truth and my dad knew that. And, he let me know that the coach had called… BUSTED. My dad told me that the coach had called because I wasn’t giving my best effort, that I was walking too much. He said that the coach knows I could do better and actually be a good runner if I would only give it my best effort… or at least a better effort.

I’m sure I whined and complained about how hard it was to run in the summer heat… back in those days, like football, we had “two-a-day” practices. Instead of getting mad, my dad simply said, “If you give it your best at cross country, I’ll quit smoking. And if I pick up a cigarette, you can quit.”

What!? Deal. I said “deal” so quick. I mean, it was a no-brainer. There wasn’t a chance that I wasn’t winning this bet. Even if it took a month, I was in. I knew that I’d be quitting cross country sooner than later.

That discussion and deal took place in the summer of 1990. My dad hasn’t smoked since.

The joke was on me. I finished my freshman season of cross country. In fact, I lettered. Then, I finished my sophomore, junior and senior season of cross country. I lettered all four years and ran 3.1 in under 17 minutes and 30 seconds.

You see, my dad knew I could do just that if I gave my best effort. He believed the best in me. He made a sacrifice… he gave something up to help me eventually see the best in myself. Now, what he gave up helped him as well. I’m sure he’s healthier today than if he would still be smoking. But nonetheless, he made a sacrifice.

My dad could have gotten angry and given up on me. Instead, he believed in me and gave me a challenge and made a sacrifice to push me forward.

Parents, my challenge to you is this… what can you give up… no, what do you need to give up to help your child(ren) believe and see the best in themselves? What can you do today, that will help push them to be a better person now and into their life later?


Who Am I and What's Going On

44. 22. 15. 13.

Just like words have meaning, numbers do too. So, what do these numbers represent? Good question…

44 equals the amount of time that I have blessed the earth with my presence. While it also represents Jackie Robinson’s number (the baseball player that I respect the most), that’s not what we’re talking about here. Age is a weird thing. Back when I was 12 years old, I thought someone in their 40’s was ancient. But now, at 44 years old, I don’t feel old. I feel more like a 35 year old. We’ll see if I still feel the same way at 45.

22 equals the amount of time that I worked with students and families in a range of ways. It started in college and an internship I did for my youth ministry minor. Then it continued on after my undergrad work as I went to seminary and took a job as a youth pastor in Michigan. We built that ministry from six kids to 65. That might seem like a small number, but the overall church size was only around 150 members. It was one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs I had. It was also a time where we learned to train and build a volunteer team. We worked there for just over three years and left so I could work with kids caught up in the juvenile justice system… First in the jail, and then as a probation officer where I supervised kids with serious substance abuse issues and a separate caseload supervising kids who committed serious violent offenses along with kids tied up in a local gang. During this time, I worked with kids ages 13 to 18. To say it was interesting is an understatement. To say it was heartbreaking at times is well, accurate. Quite honestly, there are still stories that I haven’t told my wife and stories I won’t ever tell my kids. But some of the relationships and trust that was built with the kids and parents I’ll forever remember.

One story will stick with me forever and I tell it every chance I can. Mauricio R. … I worked with him for just over two years. He was mainly on probation for substance abuse issues and went to a local drug cottage. But he was also deeply involved in a local Latino gang. I sat with his mother, who couldn’t speak English, on a number of occasions and listened to her even though I spoke very broken Spanish, tell me how fearful she was of her son and his gang life. And that fear was founded in truth. The night after we had conducted a home search on his house, a rival gang had driven by and shot up his house. So his mom was right to be fearful. Mauricio would successfully finish his time at the drug cottage. He would also successfully complete his terms of probation. But Mauricio never successfully got out of his gang. As I was driving back from a guys trip in Ohio, I received a phone call from the local police. They got my number from my card that Mauricio was carrying in his pocket at the time he was shot in a shootout behind his home with that same rival gang. When I got back, another probation officer and myself went to Mauricio’s home as they were having the wake. As we walked up to his home, we had to pass through a sea of blue… the color the adult gang members were wearing. Any other time, we would have had been in serious trouble. This time, we simply got death stares. I could only guess what they were thinking. As we walked through the home, I asked where Mauricio’s mom was in Spanish. More stares of confusion. Why were these two white probation officers in the home. As his mother rounded the corner and saw us, she broke down in my arms. No words needed to be said. It was understood. We hugged and cried. And then we left and let her grieve with her family. Working with students doesn’t mean that everything will turn out well. And sometimes the biggest impact you’ll have is on the parents. I learned that as we were walking back through the sea of blue, this time receiving looks of thanks for showing our respect.

I also learned that even more as I next worked with kids and families with the Boys and Girls Club in St. Joseph County. We made some great relationships with the kids. And I hope that we made lasting impact on many students. Time will tell. But what I know for sure, we helped a lot of parents… single moms, single dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents… all who were raising the kids we were working with. Standing and listening to a mom who’s sister was dying of cancer. Listening to a mom struggle with not only divorce, but also tell me about how her son was struggling with their divorce. Talking with a father who had just lost his brother. Helping and listening to grandparents struggle with taking care of their three grandchildren because their mom can’t stay out of jail because of her issue with drugs.

I got into working with students to make a positive impact on their lives. To work with kids. But I found that, while we did make an impact on the students, I also found that we could make a huge impact with the parents and guardians of those same kids. The parents, who were doing their best to make the best life possible for their kids… struggling day after day. Sometimes I just listened. Sometimes I offered advice whether it was through simple discussion or parenting classes I taught. And sometimes it was in silence while we both cried.

Empathy for the people is a powerful thing. If you want to be like Jesus, it starts and ends with empathy.

And then you have 15 and 13. The current ages of my kids. I’ve been a parent for 15 years. It seems weird to say that out loud.

Being a parent is the toughest, yet most rewarding job in the world. It’s a job that, on one day, I feel like the best parent ever. We had moments, real teaching moments. I handled everything perfectly. And then, the next day, or better yet, later the same day, I feel like the biggest failure ever.

I fail everyday in some way as a parent. What I find hilarious (and I say that in the most sarcastic way ever), as I look back on my life, whether it was during the time I was a youth pastor, or as a youth worker, when I was teaching a message or a parenting class, we dealt with that same issue in parenting times ten. As I look back on some of the posts I’ve written in the past month and a half, the same thing has happened… as parents we struggle with the very same thing I had just written about. In fact, their behavior is a little extra naughty in the very same thing I had just written about. So now, as I write, I just kind of expect it... I expect that our kids behavior will be, well, a little “extra special.”

The purpose of this blog going forward isn’t to shout out loud that Jami and I have got it all figured out. To the contrary, we fail everyday… and that’s ok. We are still learning and growing as parents. I’m simply hoping that the stories I share and the applications I draw are an avenue of growth for me and you. I’m hoping that it will offer simple reminders and let you know that we’re in this together and inspire you to be a better parent and/or youth worker.

If this is your first time here, welcome. If you’ve been here before, thank you for returning.

Let’s strive to be the best parents and youth workers we can be… together.


Eight Days Left

This past Monday was great. Not just great. It was awesome.

May 11, 1976… 44 years ago I was born. So my family spent the whole day focused on me. For an enneagram 7 I was in heaven. From the time I woke up, till I went to bed, the day was all about me. Morning. Lunch. Dinner. And even the movie at home… all my choice. [Insert photo of me on a stage in a spotlight] If you haven’t guessed it yet, I like attention.

So as we laid on the couch watching the movie I chose, [The Last Full Measure - it’s based on a true story… you should watch it], I couldn’t help but feel good about how the day unfolded. I think this word is a little overused at times… but I felt really blessed at how I’m loved by my family. It really was the perfect day.

And then in the middle of the movie, probably just after 10:30 pm, Carter comes up and gives Jami his phone. I didn’t see him, but I could tell in his breathing that something was wrong… really wrong.

“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why.”

With eight days of e-learning left, Carter checked his classes and grades and learned he was getting an F in his band class. Eight Days… An F people.

As you can imagine, I hit pause on the movie, and Jami and I went into police detective mode as we threw questions at him. “How did this happen?” “What have you been doing during e-learning?” “Are you missing assignments?” By this time Carter was in full-on tears and panic. Not only was he getting an F in band, he was also getting B’s in a couple of classes which sent more questions his way. In his defense, a couple of the classes are probably tough and a B is acceptable (the classes he is getting B’s in are classes that if I was honest I got C’s and D’s in). At this point, the obviously bigger problem was the F. So we turned the focus back on that class. As he was talking about his band class, it appeared that there were some practice sheets that weren’t filled out. But he insisted that they weren’t there before. At 10:47 pm we told him he needed to email his teacher and get working on getting the outstanding work completed. So he went back down to the basement to begin to get caught up.

After he went back downstairs we turned the movie back on. After about 25 minutes after resuming the movie, Jami asked, “Is that crying?” I didn’t hear anything. But sometimes a mother’s ears are better than dad’s… let’s be honest, most times in circumstances like this, a mother’s ears are most always better than dad’s. So I hit pause again, waited for a few seconds… sure enough, I could hear Carter crying from the basement.

We walked to the basement door and called Carter over to see what was going on. Before Carter said a word, we could tell that he was in full-on panic mode.

“I’m gonna get an F in the class. I won’t be able to get in a good college or college at all. So I won’t be able to get a good job to make the money I need to buy food. What am I gonna do?”

Panic mode. Like, pacing back and forth, out of his whits panic.

Carter’s a freshman. In his brain, he jumped 8-10 years down the road. YEARS. Based on this one grade. In his mind, his life was all but over.

And in that moment, in a split second, I went from being concerned about his grade to worried about him as a person, as my son. So after we got him calmed down to a point at which he could listen, we reminded him that he already emailed his teacher. He already emailed his counselor. We told him that what he needed to do now was to get the assignments done one chunk at a time. It doesn’t help to look at the five to eight outstanding pieces of work all at once. Take it one assignment at a time. Then, I told him that he was going to stop at midnight and go to sleep. To get done what he could tonight, then attack some more tomorrow… one step at a time. We can only do what we can do with the time we can do it. Sleep. Get some rest. Wake up at eight or nine the next morning, and do some more.

Then, I had him walk up the stairs, and I gave him a big, long hug, and told him I loved him.

You see, as I stood there, witnessing my son in full panic mode, I quickly realized that he didn’t need us to question and tell him he needed to get his work done. He didn’t need us to put more pressure on him. He needed us to help him focus on what he could do, do it to the best of his ability, and let him know that we love him no matter what.

He then went back downstairs and started to work some more. After a little less than an hour, Carter came back upstairs to go to bed. I wasn’t expecting what he told us next… he told us that he finished the rest of the outstanding pieces of work. “Good job bud,” I said. We told him that it was going to be fine. He did what he could and hopefully his teacher will reach out with the answers he needed in the morning… and he went to bed.

As we watched the rest of the movie I couldn’t help but think about what had just happened. Two things hit my brain… One, I didn’t think Carter had an F. He’s an A Honor Student. There had to be something wrong on the teacher’s end. While I thought that, there’s no chance that I was going to say that to Carter. And two, how many times do I react like Carter reacted… I focus on the extreme negative and go to the darkest place rather than focusing on what I can do and trust that I will be ok despite my circumstances and honor God to the best of my ability.

You see, we all have circumstances in our life that make it feel like it’s not in our control. If you haven’t been there yet, you will be. Some of us are there right now. With our kids. With our job. Our finances. Our health. And if we let our focus wonder off of where it should be, we can easily spiral into panic and despair. I’ve been there. That’s where Carter was, until he was wrapped in his father’s arms. And that’s where God wants us, that’s where we are… in the Father’s arms. We just need to adjust our focus to realize it… that in the middle of our panic and despair, God is right there with us, calling us into his embrace. All we can do is our best and know that God is there with us.

The next morning came, as it usually does… there’s always a morning. Carter completed his e-learning. We could hear him joking with his Math teacher. And before I left the house around 12:25 pm, Carter still hadn’t heard from his band teacher. As I was heading back home, I called Jami to see how things were going. She said that Carter had finally heard from his band teacher. I said, “So what did he say!?” The teacher said, “My bad, it was a typo. You have an A in the class.”

A TYPO!? A freaking typo!? Are you kidding me? Nope… not kidding.

I’m glad it worked out like I thought it would work out. But things don’t always work out the way you want them to. Things won’t always go our way. But there’s always a morning. Morning always comes. And if we do our best, we can rest easy knowing that we’ve done all we can do. As a parent, we learned some valuable lessons that night. Each moment demands something different. It’s up to us to be open to what our child needs from us in that moment. Sometimes it’s discipline. Other times it’s a hug and encouragement to realign their focus.

And for each of us personally, God meets each one of us in all of our circumstances, calling us to his embrace.


We Have A Dud

I've wanted a lab for quite some time.

What I would call a real dog. A big dog. So we finally jumped and got Lola, a charcoal lab, just over six months ago. She’s been amazing. She goes pretty much everywhere with us… on walks, to the park and to the beach. She absolutely loves all of it… or so we thought.

So a few weeks ago we went to spend the afternoon at Warren Dunes Sate Park in Michigan. It’s got a great beach and they allow dogs as well. We thought that since Lola loved the creek water in the other parks, she’d love the water at Lake Michigan. So we got our things set up, put our blankets and chairs down, and Carter and Morgan took Lola down to the water and threw the ball. Lola ran up to where the water met the sand and as soon as the wave crashed ashore, Lola went running the other direction.

The kids threw the ball a few more times, and each time Lola ran away and wouldn’t go after the ball. After about the seventh time, Carter came back to us and declared,

“We have a dud!”

And to make things worse, just 25 yards down the beach there was another lab that was running into the lake to chase down its frisbee. It was comical, sad and embarrassing all at the same time. What if we really did have a dud!?

Lola loved the water everywhere else. But she was super afraid of the sound and crash of the wave coming ashore. She just couldn’t push past her fear. But Carter and Morgan weren’t done trying.

As I looked towards the water, I could see Carter carrying our 70 pound lab out past the waves and into the lake. It was one of the most funny, ridiculous things I have witnessed. A 15 year old boy carrying his 70 pound lab into the lake all while the other lab was doing its, well, lab thing of running into the water to play fetch. I didn’t think this was gonna work. The first time the kids took Lola out in the water, she freaked out and ran back to the shore. But Carter and Morgan followed her back to where she was, picked her up again, and carried her back into the water. This time, they sat down in the water with her and petted and comforted her. Lola played for a couple of seconds then ran back to the shore. They tried to throw the ball again, but no luck. So, Carter again, picked her up, and walked her into the water. This time he walked her to her ball. She grabbed her ball and ran back to the shore.

The kids followed her back, grabbed the ball. This time, as they threw the ball, Morgan ran out into the water after it and… Lola followed her… past the waves, into the water to retrieve her ball.

Success! “We don’t have a dud!”

The rest of the afternoon was more of the same… Lola living her best life, chasing her ball out into the lake. I don’t think she has ever had as much fun as she did after she conquered her fears with the kids help.

Parenting can look super similar to this situation. There’s been countless situations where Carter and Morgan have been fearful of something. At times, they have stepped past fear and have overcome to do what they really wanted to do. Other times, they’ve given in to fear and have lived with regret for a short time. It’s painful to watch them live with regret. It’s painful to watch them give in to their fears knowing that what’s on the other side is great. But that’s life. We can only be there to hold their hand and carry them whether they overcome their fear or give in to it. The choice is completely theirs and theirs alone.

As parents… as adults… we have our own fears. And while we have friends and relatives to help us through. The ultimate parent, Jesus, is there to carry us through the fear of the crashing waves sometimes called life, just as Carter carried Lola. We just celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday. And with parenting, there are countless fears that we have to walk through. I don’t know what fears you are facing, but know this, Jesus will carry you through them. Check this out:

For I am the Lord you God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

If you allow Him to carry you, Jesus will never drop you. He will help you through your fear to overcome. Because with Jesus,

There are no duds!


The Chipped Plate

As a parent, I'm always looking to do something unexpected.

Not like “something big” unexpected. No. I’m actually a firm believer that the small things are a lot more memorable that something huge. So, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do that would be unexpected in the mundane everyday life experiences. 

So after we moved to a townhouse eight years ago, I was going through and unpacking our things… because who wants to live out of boxes for any length of time? Not me for sure… although I will live out of a suitcase after getting back from a trip instead of unpacking. I mean, why hang clothes up or put them in drawers when I know I’m gonna wear them in the next few days. Anyways, not part of this story. Just a look inside my psyche. 

Where was I? Oh ya. We were unpacking our things… specifically our kitchen items. Cups. Glasses. Silverware. Plates. We were pulling each of those items out and then placing them in their rightful place. As I was unpacking our plates, I noticed that one had been chipped. Not a huge chip, but noticeable for sure. It’s actually the one I used in the header image above. It didn’t really phase me. I wasn’t upset. We had more. And honestly, it could still be used. But it was tarnished. It didn’t look like the others. And it was frankly, broken. So I put it away and didn’t give it much thought.

Then, a few days later, I was pulling dishes out to get ready for dinner. As I was placing them on the table, I noticed I grabbed the one with the chip and almost didn’t put it down. And then it hit me. This plate deserves to be used just as much as the other plates. Sure it’s damaged. It’s not perfect. But it deserves to fulfill its purpose.

Stay with me…

One of the things that has been huge with me when it comes to students and parents is to make sure they have been encouraged. It’s something that has been super important to me… even in the difficult discussions… whenever possible, I want to make sure they have been encouraged. I want our house to be filled with encouragement… with encouraging words. It’s super important. 

And so, I stood there, with the chipped plate in my hand, and I thought, “This is the perfect place to do something unexpected. It’s the perfect place for a great illustration.” So that night, we sat down for dinner and I said, “You guys see that plate, it’s got a chip in it. But it’s still usable right? It still works. It still serves its purpose.” And I said, “We’re kind of like that plate.” Mind you, this was eight years ago. Our kids were 7 and 5 years old. I said, “We all mess up. We’re not perfect like this plate isn’t perfect. But it doesn’t mean we’re not loved the same… by God and by your parents.” Then I said, “From now on, whoever gets this plate at dinner gets to pray, and then we’ll go around the table and say something encouraging about the person who has the chipped plate.” 

The. Kids. LOVED. It. I mean, who doesn’t love it when someone says something encouraging about them? 

It was the perfect part of the day to do something unexpected. It was dinner. Something small. Ordinary. But that night, it became something more. Something unexpected. It was a great time to slow down and make sure that our kids know that they are loved and encouraged in even the smallest of ways. It was actually such a hit that our kids told their friends. They went to school and talked about the chipped plate. When we would watch our friend’s children for date night, they would want to be the one who got the chipped plate for dinner… and unexpectedly we would put the chipped plate down in front of one of them. 

And, even better, when the kids would be arguing and fighting throughout the day, we would make sure that one of them would get the chipped plate so that the other would have to say something encouraging to the other. 

The chipped plate didn’t make an appearance every night. But when it did, the kid who noticed it in front of them would light up. And more than that, on some nights, the chipped plate would find its way in front of myself or Jami. It wasn’t just a kid thing. It was an adult thing too. Because, well, everyone needs encouragement. And it’s always a good thing when kids can learn to encourage adults as well. It’s super important that our kids learn how to not only receive encouragement, but also give it as well. We did this on a regular basis over the last six to seven years. It disappeared for a while. But we’ve started doing it again. And even at ages 13 and 15, when it’s placed in front of them, their faces light up. 

Our children face a lot these days. They feel the brokenness in their lives. They know they aren’t perfect. They are constantly comparing themselves to others… more so now than any other generation before them. One of the things they need the most from parents and youth workers are encouraging words. Words that let them know that they aren’t damaged. They have talents and abilities. They need to know that, despite the fact that they aren’t perfect, they are loved. We don’t need to do something extravagant to make a lasting impact in their lives. The lasting things are the little things, like words of encouragement that take place over time. 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11

What’s something that you’ve done to encourage either your kids or someone else?


The Ruth Tooth Extraction

This was Carter when he was seven years old.

For a week prior to this video, I was coaching and bribing and coaxing Carter into trying to pull his loose tooth out. I’m not sure why he was so fearful of pulling his tooth out. Maybe it was the fear of it hurting. Maybe it was the fear of it possibly bleeding. Maybe it was the fear of change. I even told him that I would tie a string to his tooth and attach it to my car and hit the gas to rip it out. But that didn’t work either. (Actually, that probably made his fear worse.) Whatever it was, Carter would not even attempt to try to pull his tooth out.

So, each night, for seven straight days, I would ask him… “Are you ready yet? Do you think your tooth is ready yet?” And for seven straight evenings he would reply with a, “No.” No follow up questions. Don’t pass go. This tooth ain’t ready. Carter knew the tooth was going to come out. He had lost two teeth before… two teeth that literally fell out on their own because the adult tooth pushed them straight out. So he knew that, at some point, the tooth was going to be “lost.”

You see, he wanted this one to be different. He, deep down, wanted to pull this one out on his own. He wanted to be the one to pull the tooth out and not let it simply be pushed out by the adult tooth coming in. But, he was scared. He knew that what he wanted to do was good. It was natural. And it was needed for the next step to occur. But still, night after night… day after day he was scared and wasn’t ready…

Until the night of the video.

That night, he said… “I think I want to try dad.” And, like any good dad would say, I said, “Wait, let me get my phone to record it coming out!” The video that you watched is just one minute and 11 seconds. The actual time the it took from start to finish to get the tooth out… just over two hours. Two hours of coaching. Two hours of encouraging. Two hours of making jokes to ease his nerves. Two hours of standing by his side and he pushed through the fear to extract that “fiesty” tooth as he put it.

This isn’t the first time that Carter has been scared to try to accomplish something. And it’s not going to be the last. My job as a parent is to stand by him and help him push past the fear if he chooses. To let him know that I’m by his side, cheering him on.

As a parent, we can see the other side. We can see that everything will be ok. It’s so easy to get frustrated by that. To not understand where they are at in their fear and to only focus on the end goal. But as a child, they can’t see that end goal. They can only see the immediate place where they’re at… fear. It’s our job to help them walk through that place to come out on the other side not only ok, but also a better person having learned to walk to the other side of fear, despite their fear.

You know, God does the same thing with us as well. Sure, he doesn’t physically hold our hand. But He’s right there beside us giving us comfort as we walk to the other side of our fear, despite our fear. Check this out:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Our God has promised to be with us wherever we go. Whether it’s during this time of quarantine or after, our God will never leave us. He is there. For you. For me. For us. As you walk with your child through their fears, despite their fears, know that our God is doing the same with us… through our fears, despite our fears.


Bike Rides Funnel Cakes & the Mess

I'm sitting here at home, on my couch, looking for a moment I wanted to share with all of you.

I knew I had posted it on Facebook. But for some reason, I thought it happened about two years ago. But no, it was five years ago! FIVE! In the grand scheme of things, five years isn’t that long. But when your kids reach a certain age, five years is forever ago. The amount of change that happens between five years is, CA-RA-ZY. Anyways, side tangent over.

Morgan has ALWAYS loved to ride bikes. Still does. Five years ago she would ask all the time. Like… Every. Single. Day. As a parent, you love your kids. But there comes a time when you just need, well, you need a break. This was one of those times. The day before, she had asked to ride bikes when I got home. And, well, since it was raining I said no, we couldn’t do it. She asked why. My response, “Sweetie, it’s raining. If we go for a bike ride now, we’ll get all wet. Our legs and shoes and clothes will get all muddy. We’ll be a mess. Let’s see what the weather is like tomorrow.” I could tell she was disappointed. But I just didn’t want to clean up that mess. And, I needed a break from riding bikes (my seat is terrible).

The next day rolls around. I’m driving home and it starts to rain. As I walk in the house, Mo comes running up to me and asks, “Can we go for a bike ride?” And in my head I’m thinking, “Our clothes are gonna get wet. Our shoes might get ruined. We’ll definitely get muddy. It’s gonna be a huge mess.” But when I get done thinking those things, I start thinking, “We’ll definitely get wet. It’s not cold out, it’s the middle of June. There’s no thunder or lightening. This is something I’d love to have done as a kid. We’ll definitely have fun. And it’s memories they’ll have for sure.” So I say to Mo, “It’s raining.” She says, “Awwww.” To which I said, “Wanna go for a bike ride IN THE RAIN?” Mo and Carter at the same time asked, “CAN WE?” And I said, “Absolutely! Get your bikes.”

Did we get wet? 100 percent. We were soaked. Were we muddy? Absolutely. I made sure we rode through all of the puddles. Did our shoes get ruined? I have no clue. I just know that as we were riding through our neighborhood, there was nonstop giggles and fun. It’s something they still talk about five years later. It was an absolute mess. But it was worth it.

Fast forward five years. Carter shows Jami and I a TikTok video of a guy making homemade funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos and deep fried Reese's Cups. My first thought, man, this could be a real mess. Two inches of vegetable oil in a pan. A 15 year old in charge of this little project. And powdered sugar. What could go wrong? We literally put this experiment off for a couple of days. But there was no chance that he was gonna forget about this. So, we said ok. And, it turned out to be a mess. We had dishes all over the kitchen. Powdered sugar everywhere (mostly because of me). Burnt chocolate smell. Like I said. It was a mess. But, Carter loved getting it ready, following the instructions, and watching what he did actually work. It was fun. He was successful at what he set out to do. And we made memories.

There have been times throughout the years that we have said no to things our kids wanted to do because we knew that there would be a giant mess to clean up. I wish I had those times back, honestly. In the last five years, we’ve begun to intentionally said yes to things (like our Christmas Dinner Christmas Card) because we know that sometimes the moment means more than the mess. The memories that will be created in the moment you have with your children will far outweigh the mess that it creates. And I want more memory-filled moments in our house… even if it creates a huge mess.

It’s ok to have a mess. Because the moment means more than the mess.


Morgan, Carter and Me. June 14, 2015. This moment meant more than the mess.


Tales from the Passenger Seat: 3 Lessons I Learned Teaching My 15 Year Old How to Drive

I still can't believe I'm at this point in my life.

It still feels like yesterday that I became a father for the first time. Standing over Carter as the nurses were cleaning him up. But it wasn’t. It was 15 years ago. Actually, it was 15 years, three months and 25 days. And now, I find myself sitting in the passenger seat helping him drive… and not just drive… but drive safely. 

I mean, pretty much anyone his age and older can drive. They can push the gas pedal and move the steering wheel. But can they drive safely? That’s the question. We’ve all been in a vehicle with someone wondering when they were going to kill everyone… everyone in the car, in other cars, on sidewalks. We’ve all been in situations where as soon as we got out of the vehicle safely we thanked the Lord the ride was done. You’re currently thinking of that person right now. I know I am.

And so now, at this time in my life, I’m willingly getting into the passenger’s seat and teaching my 15 year old how to navigate the streets behind the wheel safely. We started on the neighborhood streets. Skipped right over the parking lot. If I’m gonna teach him how to drive, I’m gonna go a little bigger at the start. I mean, my enneagram number is seven, it’s what we sevens do, right. We’re positive, confident, enthusiastic and, well, adventurous. So skipping the parking lot and diving straight to our neighborhood streets is, well, quite fitting. And it was fine, he didn’t bounce off of any cars and did a great job. I was super impressed with how he handled things. 

As we drove together more, I thought I’d be doing all the teaching. But I’ve learned a few things as the drivers training has progressed. And so, I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve learned while teaching my 15 year old how to drive:

  1. Asking questions is better than giving him the answers. During our time driving together, he eventually asks questions like, “Is this close enough to the stop sign?” And to this question I’m tempted to give him the answer - to tell him what I think based upon my experience. And I suppose that’s ok. But I won’t be in the passenger seat next to him every time he drives. At some point, he’ll be behind the wheel by himself and I want him to feel confident to think for himself. So instead of saying yes or no to this question, I ask him, “Can you see traffic coming from your left and right?” And if he answers no then my question back to him is, “What do you think you need to do to see better?” And without saying a word, he creeps up closer. And then it hit me, this is true in life as well. He’s 15. Morgan is 13. I’m a pretty Type A personality. Pretty intense. I have no problem giving answers. But, just like with Carter and driving, there will be a time where I won’t be in the passenger seat with them in life. My job as a parent has reached a point where it’s not just my job to give them answers. It’s now my job to help them come up with the right answers themselves so that when I’m not there to help them navigate life, they’ll be able to make the right and good decisions. It’s a shift in thinking. It’s a shift in parenting.
  2. He’s gonna hit things that he doesn’t know to look out for. After a few days of driving Carter was doing well. He was driving along, demonstrating good awareness. Focusing on what he should be focusing on. And during this time, as you would suspect, I’m riding in the passenger seat but my focus is still on heightened alert like I was driving. So as we’re moving along, I’m scanning the oncoming traffic, checking my passenger mirror and monitoring who’s behind us… and… monitoring the actual road we’re driving on. Then, quite literally out of nowhere a huge pothole pops up. I see it, and as a driver I would have been able to navigate around it. But Carter didn’t see it. So like any sane father would do, I started saying, “Hole, hole, hole, HOLE.” Getting progressively louder on each “hole” that comes out of my mouth. And, on the fourth “hole” I try to grab the wheel to swerve to the right. But, because this was all happening all so fast, Carter grabbed the wheel tighter and didn’t let me pull the wheel to the right… and boom. Tire meets hole. It turned out to be ok. It was a deep pothole, but luckily didn’t do any damage. I said a couple of choice words. We pulled into a church parking lot to turn around and take a pause so I could explain what else Carter should be scanning. Us hitting the pothole wasn’t Carter’s fault. What he was focusing on was right and good. But he wasn’t aware of the potholes that are sure to come. Potholes that literally pop up out of nowhere. To him, prior to this pothole, the street was supposed to be smooth. Not potentially hazardous. He simply didn’t know that there can be and will mostly likely be potholes right where he will be driving. It was my job to teach him about the potholes that could lie ahead on the street. To be scanning for those as well and how to navigate around them. And that’s true with life as well. There will be potholes that will pop up. And he’ll need to be aware of those and look for a way to navigate around them. In the car, you have a steering wheel to get around them. In life, in my opinion, the steering wheel that will help navigate around life’s potholes is the Word of God… the Bible - "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." - Psalm 119: 105. As we were pulling out of the parking lot to make our way back onto the road, Carter said to me, “I didn’t know why you were grabbing the wheel, so I was like, I just held tight and wouldn’t let you turn it because I didn’t know what you were doing.” Hahahahahaha… good instincts… never let a crazy person who’s yelling grab the wheel.
  3. Checking your mirrors before a lane change is always a good idea. Prior to driving and as we were driving in and around the neighborhood I was giving Carter advice on how to change lanes… what I do. One thing I’ve realized is that the decisions for this type of thing are really made a split second apart from each other… Here’s how it goes for me… “I need to change lanes. Check rearview mirror. Check side mirror. Look over my shoulder. Turn on turn signal. Check side mirror. Look over my shoulder. Go.” It happens almost simultaneously. And so I explained this to Carter. A couple of times. And so, I was like, “Ok, let’s get some experience.” We get out on SR 23 and I tell him I need him to change lanes. And boom. Not boom in a bad way. Calm down. Boom… like boom, he did it perfectly. The next day, we go out again. Same road. Same thing. I tell him I need him to change lanes. He says ok. And this time I find myself moving from the left lane into the right lane… no checking mirrors, no looking over his shoulder. He essentially changed lanes blind. Now, I’m not that stupid. I made sure that there weren’t any cars around us prior to telling him I needed to change lanes. I did know that a car was a ways back in the right lane and figured he wouldn’t check his mirrors prior to changing lanes. So it was a good lesson, because after he changed lanes, I had him look in his rearview mirror. And I asked him, in a rather straightforward and stern manner what would have happened if that car was beside him when he changed lanes. He got the point. The same holds true for life. There will be times where we’ll have a decision to make. And that decision will likely be a change of lanes. It’s not a good idea to simply change lanes. You want to check your mirrors. Ask questions. Do some research on what that lane change means. Make sure to the best of your ability that the lane change won’t lead to a devastating outcome. Talk to people. Seek counsel. Use your mirrors. That’s what they’re there for.

I’ve loved teaching Carter how to drive. It’s been an eye opening experience. And I'll love continuing to teach him. He's done a great job so far. I just can’t believe that we’re already here, but I wouldn’t trade this time in for the world. There really isn’t a better, more important job on the planet than helping a child, yours or otherwise, learn how to navigate life and grow as a human being. It’s not easy. But anything great isn’t.