Wanna Go Back-2-School?

If you’re like me, the answer is “Uh…no.” School was great. I honestly enjoyed it. However, being out for a few years now, I’m 100% certain I do not want to go back. This week, many will not have the option to simply say, “No.” They will have to go back to school.

Truthfully, it has already started for lots of folks. Some schools have already had their school year begin. If not officially started yet, many district employees have been hard at work preparing for the coming year. Being married to a Kindergarten teacher, I know firsthand just how much pre-work goes into a year. There is the planning for lesson plans, gathering materials, learning students’ names, and the huge task of getting the classroom just right.

No matter where you fit (teacher, administrator, support staff, coach, aide, facilities, transportation, student, parent, etc.) I believe my brother has put together a great prayer guide as you begin the school year. Check it out here- Back to School Prayer Guide.

May God bless and protect you during this school year.

Holding On Loosely

The classic rock band 38 Special sang, “hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” The song was released in 1980, when I was a young nine year old boy. I know I heard it from time to time on my parents’ radio, but it’s a certainty that I gave it little to no thought. It was just another cool sounding song.

The last three and a half decades have afforded me the blessings of aging and acquiring life experiences that have given me a certain perspective on the idea of holding on loosely…even though it’s very difficult at times.

When you have something you do not want to lose, holding on to it with anything less than a death grip seems totally illogical. Right? In those situations, you normally grab and hold with everything you have. The blood rushes away from your fingertips and they turn white as a sheet. So, the idea of holding on loosely boggles the mind. If I’m not serious about holding on to it, I’d just as soon not hold on.

The last couple of years (especially recently with my daughter) I have learned firsthand that parenting requires this kind of holding- loosely. I joked with my wife that if I had known we were going to have to let go of our children and let them live their own lives, I would have never gotten into this whole parenting thing. Truly, it’s been downright tough on this dad’s heart.

In today’s picture-happy world, there seems to be no escape from the reminders of just how special the early days were with my kiddos. It’s hard to go more than a day or two without seeing something that brings a warm smile to my heart. And, as a very good friend of mine pointed out to me the other day, I am quite sentimental. Actually, he told me he knew I would more than likely struggle with this stage of parenting. I’m still not sure why he never warned me.

Here’s what God’s word has reminded me of during this particular season of life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”, and the Byrds kind of echoed it with their song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in 1965.

Psalm 103:15-16 says, “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”

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Things change. That is life. Both of my amazing children, who need their parents less and less each day, will one day go on to live their own lives. Instead of my wife and I oohing and awing over all their cute little antics, we will strive to embrace their maturing and celebrate their accomplishments. The job has changed on a daily basis, but I must still joyfully enjoy, and be thankful for each and every different season of life.

“ADRIAN!”

 

In between watching more than my fair share of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (simply because I love my wife), I happened upon a classic movie, and it brought tears to my eyes. What movie you ask? Rocky. Yes. Rocky. The first Rocky movie is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I don’t mind admitting that it brought me to tears as I watched roughly the last 40 minutes.

Assuredly, you are probably struggling to understand how this movie could induce a teary effect. I mean, it is a man’s man type of movie with lots of action, physical aggression, blood, sweat, etc. So, what’s the deal with the tears?

Well, for me, it all has to do with the deep connection of two souls. Critics will tell you that the movie is overly dramatic, and even cheesy as it tries to pull the viewer into the story, but I find it eerily believable. Rocky Balboa begins to doubt himself on the eve of the biggest fight of his life with the world champion, Apollo Creed. After walking the streets and visiting the arena where the fight will take place, he tells his girlfriend, Adrian, that he can’t do it. He knows he can’t beat Apollo, and he’s bearing his soul at this moment with Adrian. She reminds Rocky of how hard he has worked to get ready for this fight. She has had a front row seat, and she is reminding him that she is in this with him.

Rocky goes on to fight, and he fights valiantly. He is grossly outmatched by the much better boxer, and his body pays the price…but he fights until the last bell. He gives as much punishment as he takes, proves to himself that he can stand toe-to-toe with the champion, and holds his own. As a matter of fact, he nearly wins the fight.

The camera cuts back and forth between this epic battle in the ring and Adrian’s face as she watches. The connection between this man and woman who care about each other so deeply is unmistakably evident in her eyes. It’s as if she feels every blow that lands on Rocky’s head. His pain is her pain, and after the fight is over, his exuberance is hers as well.

With microphones shoved in his face, and reporters trying to get a comment, Rocky simply yells, “ADRIAN” over and over. Then we see Adrian yelling Rocky’s name as she pushes her way through the crowd and sneaks into the ring. Rocky’s face is mangled, and he probably can’t see Adrian out of his eyes that are swollen shut…but they find each other and embrace as if nobody else is around. It’s a magical scene.

Picturing that scene in my mind right now brings the same swell of emotion. These two shared their dreams, fears, failures, struggles, and accomplishments with each other. Rocky had a desire to compete for the championship, and Adrian walked each step of the way with him. They had a connection on a very deep level, and that is what shows through what some call a cheesy, over-acted classic movie.

What do I take from this as a Christian, a husband, a father, and a pastor? Honestly, there are many lessons I think could be shared. But for me, what stands out is the challenge to live deeply and passionately. I am challenged to find something worth going after, share it with my wife, and strive together to achieve it with everything I have. It’s a challenge to live life with purpose, making all decisions based on how it will affect the ultimate goal, and moving forward with confidence.

Too often, people find themselves relegated to and settling for the only life they think is attainable, and there they just exist. Going to work, coming home to dinner, and some sort of entertainment before falling into bed…just to do it all over again the next day. Most times there is little passion, few dreams, and no thought of achieving something greater.

Husbands and wives don’t talk about the deep things of their hearts. Parents and children go to separate rooms for the night, with little to no communication. Homes all over the world are filled with people who have settled into “the way things are” and they are happy to live out their days catching up on their latest favorite show.

I believe that living is much more than existing, and it is a conviction on my soul to think that I have taken the great blessings God has bestowed upon my life and neglected them as I simply exist. He has a greater plan for his children than that. God tells us that we can do all things through him according to his strength in our lives (Philippians 4:13). What a waste to have that kind of power and strength on our lives…and then not really live. May we all strive to live big for his honor and glory.

Yes. I was moved in my spirit thusly, and all from catching the end of Rocky. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. You might end up inspired.

No is not a bad word

 

Here’s a quick thought about the state of parenting in America today.

Maybe it was a specific time and place, or a particular worldwide event that sparked the change, but something has clearly shifted in the way parents raise and train their children. At times it almost seems that the keys to the kingdom have been flat handed over. Mom and Dad just hope and pray that their little heathen spawn do not take over totally and destroy everything.

Overstated? Maybe. But similar scenes play themselves out over and over in our society today. A scene in which mom or dad want the child to do something, but can not acquire even a modicum of compliance. The kid glares at the parent with a look of, “Did you just tell me to do something” or “You talkin to me?” Then the child continues to do exactly the opposite, and there are zero consequences…unless you count the pain and suffering the rest of us have to endure as consequences. It’s nearly impossible to make even a short trip to a store without witnessing parents at the end of their ropes, and kids screaming and yelling as they’re carried or dragged down the aisles.

While each child is unique, as well as every parent, there does appear to be a common thread that connects these awkward and chaotic parent-child battle scenes. The word “NO” has become a bad word for parents. Obedience and compliance to the wishes of the parents (who are supposed to be the ones with the wisdom) is nowhere to be seen. In fact, there are very few commands given at all in the new parent-child relationship. It’s as if parenting has become a daily exercise in bargaining. Parents ask questions of their little darlings, like asking permission to have them do or stop doing something, and then just hope the child will agree.

Ludicrous is the word that best describes this parenting practice for me. Even at times when the child’s safety is at stake, this same practice is prevalent. Seriously? A child stands up in his high chair at the restaurant, his head a good 4-5 feet above the concrete floor, and there is still this idea of, “Please sit down, Sweetie.” “Let’s not stand up, Bubba.” Parents need a grasp of what it means to parent with a loving, firm hand of leadership. Protecting your young children is at stake. Children need to have a very clear sense of who is in control, who is their authority, and who is there to help and protect them.

When they are doing something that they shouldn’t, you need to tell them, “No”, and they need to know without any doubt that you mean it. The same goes for when you tell them to stop or start doing something. Young children need to be taught how to obey right away. They’re young lives are shaped and molded by how they follow leadership from their parents. They are learning that life is not all about them. In fact, it’s mostly not about them, and they need to know that.

As they age, and learn to do things on their own, the percentage of their lives that belong to them grows. However, in years 0-4 or so, their young lives have little of that ownership. They live lives of “do this/don’t do that”, and these formidable years are crucial to them being able to understand life.

So, parents, teach your children the word “no”. Teach them that it is a good thing for them. Help them know that part of living life is understanding that we will have to hear “no” from time to time. Show them that the word “no” can be used with both kindness and firmness…that it is an important part of life. The younger they get a handle on this truth, the easier it will be for them as they grow and mature. And, the easier life will be for you during the early years of childhood.

One other quick note: mean what you say and say only what you mean. Take this principle from the Bible in Matthew 5:37. Let your “no” mean “no”, and your “yes” mean “yes”. Be an example of consistency and integrity as you lead your children. If you continually allow them to disobey as you repeat, “Stop that!” and “I told you…”, you are fostering in them a very real sense of confusion. Young children will ever push and search for the real boundaries that make them feel safe.

These words are shared in hopes of helping you in your journey of parenting. My hope is that you enjoy your children as you raise and train them to be God-honoring adults one day.

My Mom is Perfect…for me

 

Mom & Dad dressed upIt pains me to have to admit, although I think many of us might have experienced the exact same emotions and thoughts, but I wasn’t the easiest boy to raise. To say that I came by my childhood nickname honestly would be a gross understatement. My grandfather gave me the clever moniker of “iron head”, and somewhere inside my 3 or 4 year old brain, I think I began to do everything within my power to live up to it, and wear it like a badge of honor. Truth be told, I might have started that process straight out of the womb. As to whether or not I ever stopped, you’ll have to ask my mother.

So, Mom, Dad, & Methe childbirth pains that accompanied my arrival were most likely outdone by the pain that came from trying to raise a little iron head. For that, I am sorry, and I have told my sweet mother that on numerous occasions in my adult years. While some might think this a bit tongue-in-cheeky, it isn’t at all. I really am sorry, and occasionally l feel some real pain and sadness that comes from the realization that I simply did not grasp the beauty of my mother while I was a child.

That’s where I think many of us might find some common ground. That area of realization that we truly didn’t have the foggiest of ideas what exactly it took for our mothers to mother us. If you were like me, you ran through your childhood thinking life was mostly (if not all) about you. You expected your mom to be there for you no matter how she felt, or no matter what was going on in her own life. Her life, in essence, was to be what you needed, when you needed it, and for however long you needed. Doesn’t that seem like such a thankless, unglamorous, tedious job? Yet, she did it day in and day out…all because my mom loves me. I know I will never be able to repay all that my mother did for me, but I hope to love and honor her well the rest of my days. She is definitely worth it, and believe me, she earned it. Not only was I a mess, but my little sister came along when I was three and added to the fun.

Doing life with my own lovely wife, and being right by her side through all the details of kyleeandmichael2004raisiKym2ng our own children has helped me gain a greater understanding and deep appreciation of motherhood. Honestly, I do not know how moms do it! It is totally beyond me! God’s plan for raising children clearly is genius. The sweet bond that is clear to see between mom and baby could only happen because God put something special in the heart of mothers. Funny thing is, that bond only grows stronger and stronger over time. Ask a loving mother about her kids today, no matter the age of her children, she will brighten up and talk about her kiddos like they are the greatest. There will be a sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face as she discusses how her awesome her children are.

Early 70's Harper Family

It doesn’t escape me that some families have much different stories. Not everyone has a great relationship with their mom, and tons of fond childhood memories. If we’re all being honest, I can dig back and remember some of the things that weren’t the greatest as I was testing my mom’s patience and sanity. With that being the reality, let me leave you with some encouragement.

Learn from the past, live in the present, and look to the future. Choose to dwell on the good things you can remember, and do everything you can to make a better future. My relationship with my mother is better today than ever. God has a way of healing the hurts of the past, and giving all necessary grace for the now. No matter the pains of your past, and no matter how close you are to that past, God can do a work in your heart. Forgive the past, rest in the goodness of God, and treat your mom the way you hope your children will treat you as you age. The truth is, God gave you the mother you had for a purpose. Your mom was the perfect mom for you, for what he wanted you to learn. Let God continue to do the work in you that he began through your mom.

As children, we have one simple command that God puts on our lives, regarding our parents.

“Honor your father and mother”

This command is recorded in four different books of the Bible. God’s plan for children is to honor mom for as long as you have breath. There is no time in your life that you are allowed to stop honoring your mom. She is to be loved, cherished, treasured, and honored all the days of your life.

Remember this: Motherhood is a tough gig. It takes a fortitude that I’m quite sure I do not possess. Take time out to let your mom know how special she is in your life. Take the time to show her, the time to love her well. If your mom has gone on before you, live in the way she modeled for you. Honor her with your life.

For my mom: put me on the schedule. Lunch is on me whenever you want.

Sweet 16 for my BGP!

She entered this world and grabbed ahold of my heart with both hands. To this date, 16 years later, she hasn’t let go…not even for a minute.

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From the moment I laid my eyes on this beautiful girl, I was clearly, eternally wrapped around her finger. She entered this world and grabbed ahold of my heart with both hands. To this date, 16 years later, she hasn’t let go…not even for a minute. Being the father of a daughter was not something I was prepared for. Honestly, I have a few problems with some of you in my life that didn’t even give me the smallest of a heads up. But, seriously, I’m not sure anything would have prepared me for the realities of having a little, precious girl look up to me the way a daughter does.

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There is this overwhelming and intense pressure that I think never really subsides. The pressure from the responsibility to protect this gift of a girl that God has brought into my life. I now understand that God has used that pressure to help grow, stretch, and change me for His, mine, and her good. Frankly speaking, I couldn’t handle being a dad to a daughter (or a son for that matter) without God’s gracious hand guiding me.

And…that he did. This relationship between me and my sweet daughter is something very special and deeply rooted at the center of my big man heart. I’ve truly never melted so quickly as when I see a hurt or sadness in my daughter’s eyes. Those times when she has been pushed to her ends, and isn’t sure how to interpret or respond to this life…those are the times God has used to strengthen our bond, and severely deepen my understanding of his love for me.

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My daughter has always been a source of fun, excitement, and positive influence to all who know her. She has a sincere desire to work hard and do her best in most everything she tries. That hard-working discipline has actually rubbed off on the rest of the family here and there along the way. We each get real inspiration from her; even if we all don’t readily admit it. She also loves others just about as hard as she works on projects, and always seems to have room in her heart for another. Her smile is infectious, her laugh contagious, and her personality simply charming.

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It has been such a treat to watch as that little, dark-haired bundle of joy has turned into the very beautiful lady I see before my eyes today. I’m so glad that she still enjoys hanging out with me…in public…where other people see us. She is my favorite 16 year old in the whole world, and I hope and pray that her next 16 years are even greater than the first.

To any guys out there with ideas: I take that God-given responsibility to protect her and help guard her heart incredibly serious. I know God might have a good one of you out there for her one day, but just remember that until that time, I am the man in her life. If you want to get to her, and try to win her heart, you have to get through me. 😉

She will always and forever be my Baby Girl Princess.