Eighth Wonder of the World

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The eighth natural wonder of the world has been found, it is in middle school…the brain of an adolescent. It is indeed something to wonder at. Scientific studies have been done, survey’s tallied, charts graphed all come to the same conclusion of: simply marvel.

If you live with, teach, or coach these wonders then you see the struggle of the beauty that lies within. One day you say goodnight to your pleasant, polite, somewhat compliant child. The overall happy-go-lucky child who enjoys school, at least lunch and recess, suddenly almost overnight, becomes this unrecognizable roller coaster of emotions who knows quite a bit more than you.

Ahhhh you are living with whom I have lovingly deemed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Sit back (not really – stay ever aware of all that is happening around you), hold your arms up in the air (asking the Lord to guide your every word and reaction), and prepare for the roller coaster ride of your life!

Listen, I love my middle schoolers. As a parent who has experienced this ride and a teacher who hops on daily – let me assure you…this too shall pass. As a defender of the weak, let me also assure you that what your child, now in the thralls of growing, is no more enjoying the sudden loops that send them upside down (laughter turning to tears of sadness that just as suddenly turn to anger and they have no idea why either); the unannounced curve that leads to the sudden drop (changes happening in their body, to their body, in their brain that is out of their control).  This has our middle schoolers holding onto that bar in front of them for dear life.

Exploration proves that inside their brain lies thousands of neutrons filled with curiosity, desire to belong, and a “want to” to make their mark. There are explosions of emotion triggered in the brain that range from a shooting star to that of a volcano. Creativity abounds when guidance is given with no box to color within the lines. As neutrons shoot across the brain waves, so do their thoughts – concrete and rational from somewhere over the rainbow to where the apocalypse is taking place over the most mundane matter (to the non-adolescent mind). Do you see the beauty that lies within?

To the adolescent mind

Justice matters.

Things are as they appear.

Emotions run deep and change like the wind.

Selfishness is melting into an others-centered, others-needed, others-orientation – albeit slowly.

And most days pets remain at the top of their prayer concerns.

Let’s step back and marvel at, encourage big, empathize with, laugh with, come alongside, and while holding accountable extend grace. The greatest lessons I have learned as a parent, teacher, and coach of this eighth wonder is to pray Scripture over and for them, to guard my reactions, and celebrate how God has wired this season of their lives. You have moved from the easy going carousel season to that of an exciting roller coaster, look out – bumper cars and go-carts are next! “Fear not,” I am learning that His grace is sufficient and His mercies new every season, every morning.

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Sacred siblings

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The whole school laughed hysterically as I stood in the middle of the playground with my gym shorts around my ankles and my Raggedy Ann and Andy underwear on display.

I stood in disbelief, my eyes filling with tears as I realized someone had just “shanked” me and everyone saw it. Of course, it would’ve been hard to miss considering my new basketball jersey, which I was so proud to show off that I had recently made the middle school team, was tucked into my underwear.

In what felt like slow motion, I pulled up my shorts and went running for the locker room wishing that I had never made the team and could go straight home instead of into an hour-long game in front of my classmates.

When we finally arrived home that evening, I headed right for my room as my mother cornered my older brother and instructed him to go easy on me for a while after what I had just experienced. After hearing the news, I was amazed that rather than use this opportunity to deepen my pain, my brother called my offender and ordered him to find some way to turn this most embarrassing moment around.

The next day, I walked into the lunch room prepared to eat alone but instead was greeted with a huge bouquet of flowers and a very public apology.

It took a few days, but eventually the kids stopped calling me Raggedy Ann and, in time, I learned the true motivation behind my offender’s actions.

I will never forget how special I felt knowing my older brother had defended me. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world and dreamed of the day when I would have a daughter and son who would be able to stand up for one another and care for each other the way my brother had done for me.

Of course, we continued to fight like cats and dogs over the remote control and the backseat armrest, but I never forgot the way I felt that day when I realized my brother would be there for me when it mattered most.

It may sound a little corny, but I eventually came to appreciate not only that day in my life but also the fact that I was wearing Raggedy Ann and Andy, the rag doll duo best known for reflecting trustworthiness, kindness, and spunk.

Siblings – and friends that feel like siblings – are one of our greatest gifts from God. It’s not always the easiest relationship, but if nurtured, a sibling can provide us with great comfort and love.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I went back and forth hoping that I would have a sister – no, a brother – for my daughter. A part of me desperately wished she would have the opportunity to experience sisterhood because I had grown up with only brothers. But when we ultimately learned that we were having a boy, I can recall feeling relieved because I knew she would one day understand the joy of having a brother just as I had discovered.

Of course, I knew then there would be many, many ups and downs on their journey, but I knew they would grow to lean and depend on one another.

In the last three years, we have all been through those ups and downs as we have learned my son has autism. While the road has been tough for my husband and me, it’s been very difficult for my daughter as well.

She’s had to deal with stares and questions from strangers. She’s had to put his needs before her own more times than either of us can count. She’s had questions about why her brother doesn’t speak to her like other little brothers. She gets disappointed when he becomes overstimulated and we have to leave the park or a play date early. She feels left out when the therapists come to our house each afternoon to see him and not to play with her. She’s even asked if her children will have autism and if James will ever grow out of it.

I do my best to love on her, answer each and every question, and celebrate her with special trips and activities. But it’s impossible for me to interpret all of her emotions and take away all of her pain.

I would be lying if I said I’ve never been infuriated with God and asked Him why she can’t have a brother who can say more than a few words to her, or play make-believe.

Thankfully, when I have those moments, my God quickly reveals to me the many, many blessings that we all have received because James is in our lives.  And that, in fact, it may be Ellie who will gain the most through this experience.

Last night we were walking to our car after a long day at school. We had been honored to have one of the Presidential candidates on our campus and she had the unique opportunity to speak with him. As we walked to the car, she told me that one day she would be President of the United States.

I loved hearing her dream of living in the White House and thought about how proud I would be to see her change the world.

Later that night, as we said our prayers before bedtime, Ellie said she had changed her mind. She didn’t want to become President anymore. Instead, she wanted to be a therapist and help children with autism.

“Like James, Mommy. I want to be able to help kids like him,” she said.

I was immensely proud of this amazing person God is shaping and thankful for the incredible daughter and sister she has already become.  I knew in that moment that God is using her to change the world.

She is teaching her friends about loving those with differences. When you have a close relationship with someone who has disabilities, you are often reminded that the only thing that matters in life is being kind, helpful, patient and loving. My heart bursts with joy when I see the two of them playing together at school or catch them in a moment when he is fully engaged with her and she beaming with love for him. They have their own unique love language and my prayer is they continue to protect and treasure one another long after their parents are gone.

This journey has been filled with pain like I’ve never felt before. But watching my children together and knowing they will forever share a special bond has given me a heart full of the kind of love I never imagined possible.

They will change the world. And they will do it together.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Left or Right: Find balance

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You may be absolutely, unequivocally correct.

After all, they are your beliefs. You have every right to share them. And if people don’t like it, they can just unfriend you. I get it. I do.

I love conservatives and liberals. I have friends who have strong beliefs. I appreciate them. As I told a good friend recently, I value people with opinions – republican or democrat.

And you’re absolutely right. What I am about to say is just my opinion.

Some leaders like to throw gasoline on a fire to get attention just like the media is into sensationalism to increase ratings. In 2015 we saw influential Christians in the media taking stances on holiday cups, the rebel flag, the police, and refugees.

Apparently, the louder you yell on one end of the spectrum, the more “likes” you get. Well, guess what?

Good leaders are less concerned about collecting followers and more worried about creating leaders.

leaders

You know who those future leaders are?

Our children. Our students.

I am not catering to my conservative friends or siding with liberals. I frankly could care less about labels right now. What I care about is the message we are sending to our CHILDREN.

What are our actions telling them?

It pains me to think about the contradictions I see on social media lately.

So, let me get this straight. On Sunday morning we took our children to church to learn about respect for authority, right? They were taught:

Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. 1 Peter 2:17

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Hebrews 13:17

Yet some of the same people who sat next to us in that pew bash the president non-stop, want the same police officers they need to protect them to pay, or complain about a red cup.

To top off a year in which social media has fueled the fire of the dialectic divide between conservatives and liberals, now we have Christian parents angry about helping widows and orphans?

Man, if I could only think of a timely story to illustrate my point.

You know? Like where a family from the Middle East region is looking for shelter where their baby would be safe. But they are turned away and have to stay in a barn.

Oh. Ouch.

Hey, I get it. I am afraid of immigrants flooding into our country and bringing a terrorist. But all Muslims are not terrorists and LOVE, not FEAR, should drive our actions. If you want more information, check out this article on what ISIS really wants. 

What are we teaching our children?

Yes, we need to care for our homeless vets. Yes, we need better vetting than the current plan, which looks something like:

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Come on liberal friends, that was funny. Admit it.

Listen, here’s the thing. Our children are forming their sense of integrity by the actions and words we use. So just be careful.

Please!

For the sake of our children. We want them to grow up with integrity.

A mentor of mine taught me a simple definition of integrity – Say what you mean; do what you say.

So by all means, have an opinion. But, if you’re angry – pause and pray before you post.

My little eyes
are watching
All you say and do
And when I grow up
big and tall
I want to be like you.

My little ears
are listening
To everything you say
I am learning how
to grow up
To be like you
someday.

So be careful how
you teach me
To be the person
that you are.
You’re a knight in
shining armor
You’re my brightest
shining star.

-Author Unknown

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3 Tips for Mindful Parenting and Teaching

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If you’ve ever flown Southwest, you know they like to have fun with their safety announcements. I’ll never forget one that completely took me off guard – so funny and so wrong at the same time.

“In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop down from the ceiling,” the polite stewardess tells us. You know how your mind starts to drift at this point?

Then she continues, “If you are flying with a child today, please secure your mask before helping your child. If you happen to be flying with more than one child, choose the one with the greatest potential first.”

The plane erupted in laughter. I recall having this strong dichotomous reaction. I appreciate sarcasm and have a dry sense of humor; it was very funny.

At the same time, it made me wonder: How does our subconscious bias affect the way we treat children?

There was an article a few years ago published in Scientific American about gender bias in science. While we have come a long way in reducing bias, it still exists.

Two groups of Yale professors were given the exact same application for a research assistant position. The only difference between the two? One had the name of a male, the other a female.

You guessed right. While both groups had the same exact application, the male was given preference toward hireability, willingness to mentor, and starting salary.

So if bias exists, it can affect our praise and criticism of children. I don’t believe teachers or parents CHOOSE to criticize children more than praise them. I believe it happens on a subconscious level.

Becoming aware of our biases can reduce our negativity.

How does negative criticism affect school performance and identity development?

We missed a really important study almost 100 years ago. In 1925, Dr. Hurlock wondered what would happen when 4th – 6th graders received different feedback on their work.

She set up 4 groups.

  • The first group received praise for correct answers
  • The second group received criticism for wrong answers
  • The third group was ignored yet they witnessed others being praised and criticized
  • The fourth group (control group) was moved to another room after the first test and received no feedback on their work

The students who were praised and criticized both performed better after the first test. Then their performance changed dramatically. Students who were criticized showed a major decline over time. The overall improvement by group was:

Praised – 71%
Criticized – 19%
Ignored – 5%

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I  won’t bore you with more studies that demonstrate bias and the negative effects of harsh criticism. I think we agree, it exists, and it can be harmful.

Becoming aware of our biases may help reconcile subconscious motives with conscious action. It is about being mindful so that we can be intentional in how we teach and raise kids.

For instance, meet Chris Ulmer, a special ed teacher in Florida who starts every class by making daily deposits in the emotional banks of his students. He calls each child up, and says things like, “You’re smart, you’re funny. You make people laugh.”

Way to go, Chris! This is an excellent example of helping children see and value their strengths.

Now I am in no way suggesting there is no place for criticism. I am very hard on my boys and have high expectations for how they treat people. I am also hard on my students and will be direct if I see something that needs to be addressed.

My point is that our negative criticism is sometimes a projection. I made this mistake recently when a pep rally at my school went south. I was frustrated because I took class time away from the teachers and I let the student body president know how I felt.

The criticism was warranted, but my delivery was harsh. This young man needed to know I was disappointed in the result, but I forgot to sandwich my criticism with the fact that he is A.) an exceptional young man with whom I am quite proud, B.) I expect better results, and C.) I have every confidence in his ability to do the job.

I allowed some things in my personal life to affect my reaction. We have all seen the effects of projecting onto young people:

The father who criticizes his son after every poor performance on the athletic field may be trying to relive his own athletic dreams through his child.

The mom who criticizes a child’s academic progress because she sits behind her friend in the car pool line with seventeen “my child is an honor roll student” bumper stickers.

Then there is social media. How often do we look at our friend’s Facebook post and subconsciously compare our situation to theirs?

All of this can affect how we treat our children if we are not mindful.

Here are 3 ways mindfulness can help us as parents and as teachers:

  1. Quiet Time: Sit and reflect on your own thoughts and experiences. God will speak to you in your quiet time. Meditate on your thoughts and feelings so that the negative ones do not filter into your teaching and parenting.
  2. The Magic Ratio: Research shows it takes 5 positive interactions to counterbalance a negative one. If you need to make a withdrawal through criticism, you better have made at least 5 deposits of praise.
  3. Praise and Challenge: You can cut back on negative criticism if you focus more on praising the desired behavior. Praise -> Challenge – > Praise -> Repeat. Children need to be challenged, but if you praise the behaviors you are shaping, they are more likely to stick than punishing the ones you want to extinguish.

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I heard the best story last week.

My leadership team starts our weekly meetings with prayer and a devotion. At our last meeting, my registrar shared a quote by Lillian Carter, the mother of President Jimmy Carter. On the day of his inauguration, a reporter remarked to her, “You must be very proud of your son.”

Miss Lillian, as she was known in the press, replied, “Which one?”

 

 

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You have prepared them well

report-cardIt’s almost time for Parent-Teacher conferences.

If you’re like me, when the teacher speaks about those areas that need improvement, it can feel as if you’re the one being assessed.

I remember meeting with my daughter’s kindergarten teacher last year. When she handed me the progress report, I only noticed one thing.

The letter N – Needs improvement. 

There it was beside: Ties shoelaces independently. I’m the one who needs improvement, I thought.

I’ve failed her. I’ll be tying her shoes for her first day of college. If she even goes to college?!

Haven’t we all done this? Haven’t we seen the N or the C – or even the F – and felt like we failed them?

Recently, I was talking with a mom of a new student at our school who was homeschooled all his life. She was concerned that she had not prepared him for this new journey. I was shocked. He’s an incredibly smart and compassionate individual. For the last 16 years, she’s dedicated her life to teaching him math, science, social studies – and more importantly – how to love God and others above himself.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “You’ve done everything to prepare him and much, much more.”

But I quickly realized I have the same concern about my own son.

This year will be my three-year-old’s very first Parent-Teacher conference. I’ve been trying to prepare myself to once again face the dreaded letter N. You see, my son has Autism and he’s in class with seven typically developing children. There are many things that I’m sure need improvement.

This time, however, I will be mindful to focus on the positives because I know he is improving each time he walks into school.

This time last year, he wouldn’t even do that. He’d scream at the door, refusing to go in to pick up his big sister. He also wailed each time we went to get a haircut, to the grocery store, or even to my in-laws. But today, we can do most of those without a battle.

He’s improving. And that’s how I know I’m not failing him.

While there are many days I feel like hyperventilating by just the thought of him going to kindergarten or possibly driving a car, I try to focus on how far he’s come.

I remember the day we received his diagnosis. I was sitting in a small office, waiting for a woman I’d met only once to come in – and in my mind – define my son’s future.

She sat down, smiled briefly, and said, “I’m sure you’re already aware that your son is in fact on the spectrum. He has Autism.”

My heart stopped.

The only word I could say was, “Okay.”

She went on to explain about 25 pages of data that supported her diagnosis while I sat there glowering at her. She talked about his deficits in speech, fine motors, and social skills.

Fail. Fail. Fail.

Every word felt like a bullet.

While she stressed the importance of continuing therapy and handed me several parent resource pamphlets, I found myself wondering about his future.

Will he play baseball? Go to prom? Have a family of his own?

It’s easy to get lost in the moment and allow a label – or even a bad grade – to cause us as parents and teachers to question how well we have prepared the children in our lives.

Thankfully, that day did not define my son’s future. It changed our life in many ways, but it didn’t change who he is or take away his potential for a happy and meaningful life.

Today, James is talking more, can string a row of beads, and has developed relationships with his peers.

We are not defined by weaknesses. My daughter can do many things well, but needs help in a few places. My son struggles more, but has made great strides in critical areas.

And I’m equally proud of them.

When you’re sitting in those conferences this month, be sure to celebrate where our children and students have progressed and don’t focus on what needs improvement or where they’re falling behind.

Think about how far they’ve come. Rejoice in the fact that they are accomplishing things that a year ago they couldn’t dream of doing.

And be sure to tell yourself that you are also improving.

You have prepared them well.

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Parenting Styles: Cultivating the Character of Christ

ChristlikeI’ve shared several stories about the antics of my youngest son, Noah, such as how his teacher carried his clip on her shirt throughout kindergarten or how he graciously allowed his basketball opponents the chance at a few rebounds rather than hoard them for himself.

There’s one story, though, that warms my heart.

Recently a mom shared with my wife that she was talking to her son about the character of Christ. She asked if he knew anyone like that.

He answered, “yes, Noah!”

As an independent Christian school, we strive to help children follow the greatest role model – Jesus Christ. In fact, I’ll take a B/C average and a bench warmer on any sports team if my child is seen as someone who is like Christ. What more could we ask for?

Now I can’t lie, my wife and I are far from perfect parents who sit around and develop action plans for making our kids like Jesus. But the comment got me thinking…how do we help children develop the character of Christ?

There are three parenting styles on a continuum from permissive on one end to authoritarian on the other.

Permissive parenting involves warmth without imposing many limits. Permissive parents want children to learn self-regulation and value freedom as the path to self-control. On the other end of the spectrum, authoritarian parenting involves a high level of expectation with an almost blind obedience to authority.

I wonder at times if some Christians assume authoritarianism is good while permissiveness is bad. I can almost hear my grandfather’s voice now, “spare the rod, spoil the child.

I don’t believe either style is all good or all bad. Ultimately we want our children to be like Christ. So how do we do that?

Last week we held our annual honor code ceremony at my school. I talked to the students about why we have an honor code. You see, at my school we focus on the middle ground of that continuum, a style known as authoritative.

Authoritative parenting is a child-centered approach where parents are demanding, yet responsive. Unlike authoritarian parents, there is some negotiation to help the child develop a sense of autonomy.

We know God created us with a free will. He did not program us to love Him. He gave us that choice because He wants us to CHOOSE to love Him.

God wants our hearts, not just our minds. I believe it should be the same as we raise children and manage classrooms. People with authoritative parenting styles want their children to utilize reasoning and work independently, but they also have high expectations.

A blind obedience to authority, while it may get short term results in the moment, typically doesn’t come from the heart. On the other end, just loving children without imposing a value system can affect the heart without developing the mind.

In the end, the character of Christ is the only thing we will take with us into eternity. Jesus made it clear in the sermon on the mount that the character we develop here on earth will determine our reward in heaven.

Helping our children “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NIV) is our most important job in life as teachers and parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A thinking mind and a compassionate heart – one without the other is a dangerous thing.

 As educators our desire is for students to be led to use their minds in such a way as to think, truly think. Their minds are not to be simply filled with facts and formulas, but stretched to learn how to reason, ask good “how” and “why” questions, to explore multifaceted avenues, and come to their own sound conclusions based on their queries. That is where the brilliance of a thinking mind begins to take root and grow. However, left with a brilliant mind alone little good will come. Indeed, some may argue that a brilliant mind left alone will conspire great evil with a self-indulgent, self-promoting life. At the other spectrum a compassionate heart that lacks the thinking mind can often do more damage than good.  
As parents a good education tops our list of important things we desire for our children. However, the education and thinking mind should not trump that of cultivating compassionate hearts. In fact, the greatest of minds think compassionately and act on it.

Oh to think of where one can go, the difference one can make when that of a thinking mind is coupled with a compassionate heart. It has been my joy to watch social media this summer as so many of our Oakbrook families are living this out…the cultivating of compassionate hearts through servant hands!

From serving the inner city of Spartanburg county to building and sending children to school in Nicaragua, leading children’s camps in India, and loving on destitute children in Uganda – parents leading the way serving alongside their children.

One of the greatest investments of time a family can make is that of serving others together.

While we will continue to challenge and grow their minds through education and study, let’s continue to provide opportunities near and far for compassionate hearts to grow through serving others. Rene Descartes said, “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”  I will add to it…”for the sake of others.”  

You do not have to take your children across the globe to serve . You can serve your neighbor, meet a need down the street, visit the widows and love the orphans in your own hometown.
Go. Serve together. “Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13   

 

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Freedom and Forgiveness

Fireworks

They are easy words to say. 

You hear them all the time. Preachers preach about it. Teachers teach about it. We hear the words with our ears, but need to experience them in our hearts.

Freedom and Forgiveness. 

The words alone probably don’t evoke a strong reaction. However, I hope what God put on my heart to share with you today will.

It is the 4th of July. Today people will gather with friends and family to celebrate freedom. We will remember 239 years ago the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Among the most famous words in that document are found in the statement of human rights.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The words send chills up and down my spine. However, this is not a history lesson. I am writing to encourage you, as parents and teachers, to think about another form of freedom that comes from dependence, not independence.

I am talking about a freedom that will allow us to parent our children with purpose so that they will grow into Godly men and women and to teach in a way that transforms the lives of our students.

I am talking here about freedom in Christ. This freedom brings joy that trumps the pursuit of any happiness this world has to offer.

The Declaration of Independence posits that we all have the right to pursue happiness. You know what? If we pursue happiness, we will never find it. It is the pursuit of meaning that leads to true joy. Discovering your calling and following Jesus by operating in your gifts, regardless of whether you work inside or outside of the home, is what brings joy in this life.

I would argue that it is when we begin the journey to pursue happiness through the things of this world that we get lost.

Happiness in this world is typically the result of human relationships. So is despair.

You see God hard-wired us to be in relationship with Him and His Spirit through His son. We in turn crave human relationships because it is the way we honor God through loving our neighbors as ourselves.

The problem is that we are all flawed. People hurt us and we hurt people. And that hurt is a reminder that we are all sinful human beings in need of a savior. Holding onto pain allows the enemy a victory over our heart. You see, spiritual warfare occurs in our minds. It is the product of our memory and experience with sin.

Freedom can only come when we allow ourselves to release our hardened hearts from the bonds of slavery that plague our memories. Perhaps you have hurt someone unintentionally. Perhaps you have been hurt.

Today as you celebrate our great nation’s freedom, I encourage you to examine your heart. Maybe God put someone in your life that needs to hear this message. Maybe you are holding onto something that hasn’t allowed you to experience the full freedom of Christ.

Give it to God. Today.

You may even have to make the most difficult choice in your life and practice forgiveness.

But you know what? Life here on earth is short compared to eternity with our Father in heaven. Don’t let Satan have the victory over your heart by holding onto something that God wants you to release.

I promise. If you release it in your heart, God will change your thoughts.

It may be difficult. But I can assure you – it pales in comparison to the forgiveness we received over 2,000 years ago when God allowed His son to be nailed to a cross and suffer so that we may live free.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32

So honor the ultimate sacrifice God made for you and me. Give that thing you have been holding onto over to God. Or help your neighbor do it.

And then kick back and celebrate true freedom as you watch the night sky fill with the bright colors that celebrate God’s victory in your heart.

Life is short. Your children and your students deserve the best you.

 

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Angels in the Outfield

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I love baseball. South Carolina is a great state for it. The year I moved here Clemson was playing the University of South Carolina in the College World Series for the National Championship.

I am also a sucker for baseball movies; however, this is not a story about a movie.

This is a story about life.

My boys have been playing baseball since they were three years old. I love to watch them play and I love the life lessons they learn through sports.

Like most dads, I’m hard on my boys when they don’t give 100%, regardless of whether they win or lose. I believe that transfers to success in school and in life.

On the little league baseball field, however, I observe some tough love that seems to fit a whole new parenting style – one that makes me wonder if I should have CPS on speed dial at times.

This is partly why the story I’m about to tell you made such an impression on me.

My youngest son is currently playing on a good team with some great coaches. The head coach is named Bill and his son Will plays on our team.

Our season was a roller coaster in the wins and losses column. We started the year undefeated and then lost a few games in a row. During one of the last games of the season, our boys were coming off a few losses and they were hungry for a win.

That night Bill’s son had a different look in his eye when he stepped up to the plate. With laser-like determination that resonated throughout his eager stance, he stared at the pitcher. We had runners on base and were starting to build momentum. You could feel the tension in the stands.

“If he could just find a gap,” I hear one of the dads remark.

Coaches get excited when players hit the ball into the gap – the space between two outfielders, because it usually means an extra base hit.

The ting of a baseball hitting the sweet spot of an aluminum bat is a sweet sound.

Will found the gap that night; it was a perfectly placed ball. He hit the ball farther than I have seen him hit it all year. The right fielder could not cut it off and it rolled to the fence. Will turned on the motor and dug deep to find an extra gear.

After Will rounded home plate, he turned toward the dugout. I could see his face. His eyes did not have the normal look of a 10 year old boy who just hit a home run. There was a mix of emotion I could not quite pinpoint.

His dad made a beeline out of the dugout and knelt down in front of his son. He put his hands firmly on his shoulders, looked his son straight in the eye and with an intensity you could feel across the ballpark said, “angels in the outfield.”

I did not understand the remark. I thought he was talking about that movie at first.

Will knew exactly what his dad was talking about.

A floodgate opened. Tears streamed down Will’s cheeks as he embraced his dad in a bear hug. I’m thinking to myself, wow, his dad sure is proud of his son! But I didn’t get it. Not yet. 

It was a great moment. One I felt God urging me to capture. Immediately I started thinking about hard work, tough love, determination – and how all those things will help you find the gap in life.

Then in one of those moments that you can only describe as a God moment, it was like the Holy Spirit was telling me – that’s not the story.

I look over at Bill’s wife Melanie, Will’s stepmom, who also has tears running down her cheeks. She makes eye contact with me and it was like she could tell my eyes were searching for the meaning in the moment.

Filled with emotion, she tells me, “Will’s mom died five years ago today. He wanted that so bad for her.”

I was speechless.

You see God didn’t put a story on my heart about how tough love leads to determination and success. It was a reminder that God the Father sent us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and how His love sustains us through loss.

Will lost his mom to cancer when he was young. Five years ago to the day he crushed his first and only home run of the season.

Coincidence?

Nope.

Angels in the outfield.

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Bedtime Stories of Faith

tell-me-a-story-thumb

When my children were younger I could count on hearing one phrase as we neared bedtime…

“Tell me a story about when you were my age.”

Our children loved to hear stories (even from our dinner guests), but especially at bedtime.

Sometimes I shared the funny stories, stories of hours playing outside with my siblings, and all the make believe I played. Other times I shared what I remembered as hard times at their age – a difficult teacher, not getting my way, getting blamed for something I didn’t do, and times when I had courage even though I was afraid.

I would sprinkle the story time with the tales (true, of course) of when I disobeyed, the time I stole lipstick (age 6), and the times when I knew what the right thing to do was, but chose not to do it.

With every story I tried to weave God’s truths in there…His faithfulness, great love, forgiveness, strength. We can and should read to our children about the lives of those in God’s Word…their courage to do what was right, face the giant, share what they knew about Jesus, willingness to follow, willingness to forgive.

Don’t forget that you have a great faith story to share through your own experiences and relationship with Jesus. Share with your children your bedtime stories of faith.

“Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.” Joel 1:3

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