Storm Preparation

A Creeping Crisis

Some crises develop gradually. Some are excruciatingly slow.

Perhaps it is the approaching death of a parent with terminal cancer. Or it is the military dad/son/husband who will be deployed to an overseas conflict. Or it may be a huge financial crisis, which will likely take away the family’s savings and home.

In these situations, the anticipation of the looming crisis is a danger in itself, for anxiety can take deep root early, and that can be paralyzing.

At some point a person facing a slow-moving crisis makes decisions (conscious and subconscious), to deal with it or ignore it. Psychologist call it the “fight or flight” response. We can run from our problems or fight them head on. Of course, we often do both. We fight something for a bit, then flee it for a while. I suppose, that is not a bad strategy, actually, as long as the general attitude is to win, not just avoid. So, we can fight. Regroup. Then, fight again. Continue reading “Storm Preparation”

Protecting Kids From the Inside Out

Unlike consumer products, parenting comes without instructions or guarantees. We all want our children to grow up happy, healthy, successful, and involved with positive-minded family and friends. However, our children live in a broken world, and it has a way of breaking young people, sooner or later, one way or another. But there is real hope because some young people do indeed grow up well. So, what’s a parent to do, in the face of the sinful human nature and a toxic popular culture, to raise a truly healthy young adult?

We tend to focus on what we can implement to protect our kids by setting appropriate boundaries, establishing positive activities, and providing safe environments in which our kids can grow. While those are all important aspects of raising “good kids,” they are not enough.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things of man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Apparently, God is more interested in the inner life than the outer life, therefore we should be concerned primarily with the inner life of our children. Unfortunately, most parents focus primarily on the behavior of their kids – the outer life. Parents often react to symptoms, rather than causes. But outward behavior is not isolated from the heart of the child. Behavior is a reflection of the inner reality. Therefore, it is not possible to fix outward behavior permanently without dealing with the problems of the heart.

There is no formula for fixing problem behaviors in children, but an inside-out approach will be more effective than behavior management.

Growing Up Too Fast

A major source of the problem is that kids are growing up too fast. Continue reading “Protecting Kids From the Inside Out”

Disappointing Birth Brings Hope

By Julie Kerckhoff

Mary and Joseph had just survived an untimely, government-mandated trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary “great with child.” Mary, who was chosen by God to have His son, had undergone six months of ridicule for being an unfaithful fiancé. By Jewish law, Joseph could have stoned her or at least dismissed her as his upcoming bride. Joseph had nine months of jeering and questionable looks for why he would marry such a loose, unfaithful woman and not shame her as a Jewish example. His carpentry business went way down as well, because no good Jew would support such abhorrent behavior.

Exhausted, they finally made it into Bethlehem only to find out they were too late. Their slow pace, possibly because Joseph was being considerate of Mary’s pregnancy, allowed every other traveler first dibs on the rooms. God had not even saved them a decent place to rest. God, their heavenly Father, who miraculously conceived the child in Mary’s womb to be their Messiah, had not provided a place for them? Really? Was God really in control? Continue reading “Disappointing Birth Brings Hope”

Loving Grandpa

One of my favorite 7th grade essays ever is this memoir about a grandfather. Ashley Aucker, is now a 25 year old, wife, mother, singer, and songwriter. She was a sweet, quiet little 12 year old in my 7th grade English class many years ago when she wrote this essay. It blew me away then, and it still moves me now. It’s a tribute to the power of a loving grandparent and the deep the inner lives of children.

The first thing I saw upon waking up were tears streaming down my mom’s face. My eyes were still groggy, but I could tell she has been crying a lot. She told me to get up and get dressed as quickly as possible. The one thing about mornings is that it is the most confusing time of day. Therefore, asking no questions, I got up and did as my mom told me. I threw on a shirt and jeans, brushed my teeth and hair, and ran out to the car.

“We are going to see Grandpa,” she finally told me on the way over to my grandparent’s house. I soon understood what was going on. Grandpa had had cancer for about two years, and this day he was struggling greatly, and I knew that this day he would breathe his last breath. Continue reading “Loving Grandpa”

Same Lake, Different Boat

When you are a parent of a child with severe disabilities, you have to accept the fact that your life journey is going to be much different than most people’s and that you are not in control of circumstances.  Those two truths are much easier said than lived-out, but they are crucial to living well.

Same Lake, Different Boat is a book that puts the right words to so many truths that I have learned in that past eleven years since my daughter’s birth.  A reviewer, with whom I agree, says of Stephanie Hubach’s book: “Concisely written, personal in tone, she provides a solid basis for tearing down judgmental barriers and building effective communities among people with different needs. A must read for anyone interested in learning about loving and caring for “normal people in an abnormal world.

Here are my favorite parts:

Much of our 21st century life is organized around denying the reality of life’s difficulties. We can surround ourselves with material comforts that give us the false sense of security that, maybe, life is not so difficult after all. We can create an illusion of control that, perhaps, we really are the masters of our own destiny. However, when the reality of disability strikes, neither a thousand trips to Wal-Mart nor unlimited funds in a retirement account can insulate the blow. When disability strikes a family, it is the startling splash-of-a-bucket-of-cold-water-in-the-face that reminds us that, indeed, life is difficult.  And we are not in control. (Hubach 99)

Whether we recognize it or not, we all have implicit expectations about our future that reside in our minds. Continue reading “Same Lake, Different Boat”

Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask

Here are some of the big questions kids (10-14) have, although they will rarely, if ever, vocalize them.  Understanding the questions is half the battle; having all the answers is not necessary, even if it were possible.

Who are my real friends?  Who really likes me?  In which group do I belong?

Who am I?  How am I like and different from others my age?

What will I do with my life?  Will I be important?

What sort of career and family will I have?

What will I look and act like when I am a grown up?

Am I cool?

Am I respected?

Continue reading “Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask”

Failure’s Top Ten List

1.  Not Everybody Gets A Trophy

Somewhere along the line we became a society that preached instant gratification. Like a giant carnival, our slogan became “everybody wins all the time.” We know it’s not true. It’s also a terrible example to set. Losing is every bit as important in human growth as winning. Rewarding your child for doing nothing will teach him just that. Nothing.

2.  Everyone Has Different Talents

Maybe your daughter wants to be the next Carrie Underwood. Then you hear her sing. Your son wants to be Evan Longoria. He can’t hit the ball off a tee. There are just some things we aren’t cut out for. It’s best to learn that at an early age. The good news is that they are a champion at something. Guide them towards where their gifts lie.

3.  Have Class

What is one of the most flattering descriptions a person can hear? “He sure has a lot of class.” “She sure was a great sport about it.” Are you teaching your children how to fail with dignity? How a person accepts failure is an easy indicator of the character within. It also almost guarantees future success. Respect is gained outwardly and inwardly. Coach Dungy is prime example of “class.”

4.  Learning From Mistakes

“I think and think for months. For years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” Who said that? Albert Einstein. Mistakes humble. They can hurt. Yet without them, we are stagnant. Every mistake we make is an educational experience. Every success is built upon a foundation of errors and corrections.

Continue reading “Failure’s Top Ten List”

Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”

Kindness Matters

Now and then, the tables are turned, and an everyday kid doing a good deed gets some attention.

Let’s all remember that there are plenty of kids out there growing up and making a difference now.

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Sportsmanship is alive

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It’s such an easy gesture yet it’s rarely seen…the simple act of sportsmanship.

Early in the game played on the lush fields of Westminster Christian Academy in Creve Coeur, Webster Groves lacrosse player Caroline Burk went down with a leg injury.  As coach Josh Palacios  ran to his player, she was already being attended to by Westminster Christians’s Danielle Pfyl.  The two helped Caroline to the sidelines.

These days the act is rarely seen away from the high school playing fields.

Over the course of covering six St. Louis Cardinals games so far this season, this photographer has seen more jawing between pitchers and hitters, both demanding respect.  In one instance the banter almost resulted in a bench clearing confrontation.

They could learn just a little bit from Danielle.

Read the Comments from both players here.  Wonderful stuff.

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Related Post: athletics-is-a-means-to-an-end

Finding Significance

I’ve had the blues for a few weeks now.  It’s not a full-blown depression.  It’s just a nagging funk that doesn’t seem to have a good reason for its existence and doesn’t seem to have an end.  I get it once or twice a year, often on the backside of winter.  Since I haven’t been able to just get over it, my wife offered a solution.  She kindly told me to get lost.

So, Saturday morning I headed out of town to get lost in the country.  I needed to get away for a few hours to a quiet place to reflect on the meaning of my life and pray about what in the world to do about it.  I headed south and ended up at this old cemetery.

Continue reading “Finding Significance”

Realistic Expectations for Life

Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is quite good, but the end of chapter 29 is truly great.  In it, he refers to a recent episode of 60 Minutes, which I vividly recall seeing myself a few years ago.  It was about the happiest people in the world, and I found it tremendously thought-provoking and memorable.  Here is Don’s take on it.

A study done by a British university ranked the happiest countries, and America was far down the list, but Denmark was at the top.  Morley Safer explored why.  Ruling out financial status, physical health, and even social freedom, he landed on a single characteristic of the Danes that allowed then such contentment.  The reasons the Danes are so happy was this: they had low expectations.

I’m not making that up.  There is something in Denmark’s culture that allows them to look at life realistically.  They don’t expect products to fulfill them or relationships to end all their problems.”

From my recollection of the study, there is another important aspect of Danish culture – their involvement in their own local communities.  More than any of the other developed nations in the study, people in Denmark have a sense of equality and connectedness to each other.  In fact, their values are so community-oriented that they have a popular government program which pays for citizens to get involved in local recreational and social groups.  As a result, they are far less competitive than Americans.  They are more likely to view success as a community, not as individuals in competition with one another.  The Danes are a reasonable and communal people, which seems to make them significantly more content and happy than other people groups.

Donald Miller concludes his chapter with, “I’m trying to be a more Danish, I guess.  And the thing is, it works.  When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.  And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions.  And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.

Therefore, if American parents, teachers, and coaches were to adopt a more Danish approach to life, we might just be happier and more effective in helping the young people in our care.  And isn’t that what we all want?  But what would that look like?

Continue reading “Realistic Expectations for Life”

Faith Like a Child

Tonight, my 11-year-old son voiced one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard.  As we sat on the couch as usual for our prayers before bed, I went through our ritual of thanking God for our many blessings, for health, for some recent good news, and so on.  My son then prayed for his 9-year-old sister who cannot talk due to her severe cerebral palsy.

It is not unusual for him to pray for her.  It’s often something like, “God, please help my sister to walk and to talk and to be healthy.”  What was unusual tonight was that he prayed FOR her.  He actually said the words that he felt she would say, if she could.  It took me a second to realize what he had just done.  It was so poignant coming from him, totally on his own accord, FOR his sister.  He was her mouthpiece, honoring both her and God so well in that moment.

And after every phrase or person’s name which she especially liked, she would say “uh” with great enthusiasm.  That’s her way of saying YES to things she agrees with.

“Thank you for my teachers and friends at school, Lord”

“Uh!”

“Thank you for the good weather and for going on a walk in the neighborhood tonight.”

“Uh!”

“Thank you for my physical therapist who is helping me learn to walk.”

“Uh! Uh!”

This must be what Jesus meant when he said that we need to have faith like a child. (Matthew 18:1-4)  Apparently, my kids have more faith than I do.  Apparently, there are some ways in which we should not grow up.

God was speaking to me tonight.

Life Is Not Fair

The Pitfall of Comparison (Part 2)

In our house, there is little room for whining and complaining about how “It’s not fair!” or “But all my friends____________, so why can’t I? That’s not fair.”  Fair is a taboo word in our home.  It’s another F-word. When it rears its ugly head, I jump on it.  I will respond with, “Do we really want to talk about what’s fair?”  At which point I can choose from a limitless supply of examples of how we are so blessed while others are suffering so much.  And we don’t have to look far to see that.

You see, in our house, we have a constant reminder that life is not fair.  It is a beautiful reminder.

Our nine-year-old daughter, like everybody on the planet, has gifts and talents, as well as limitations and weaknesses.  She is physically beautiful, socially charming, and emotionally intelligent.  Honestly, she is one the most delightful people I have ever met, and many other people agree.

Now, before you get too jealous of her (or embittered about my bragging), you should know that she cannot walk, cannot talk, and cannot care for herself in any way.  She has severe spastic quadraplegic cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and epilepsy caused by a lack of oxygen at birth.  Her brain is damaged and there is no cure.  I have lost track of how many surgeries, pieces of mobility equipment, and orthopedic braces she has had.  disabledgirlIn addition, she eats from a very restricted diet, consisting mostly of fats, in order to control her seizures.  Needless to say, she has a very difficult life on many levels.  It is not fair.  Yet she is happy.  She makes the best of what she has been given.

By comparison, I am less happy than she is, even though I have none of her problems.  I am very capable and blessed in every area of life; I enjoy a good life, yet I don’t smile and laugh as much as she does everyday.  Sometimes I feel deficient compared to her.

Continue reading “Life Is Not Fair”

The Pitfall of Comparison

“Senior class president, she must be heaven sent.  She was never the last one standing.  A beautiful debutant, everything that you want.  Never too harsh or too demanding.  Maybe I’ll admit it, I’m a little bitter.  Everybody loves her, but I just wanna hit her.  I don’t know why I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I spend all my time wishing that I was someone else.” (from the song “The Girl Next Door,” by Saving Jane)

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Adolescents ask themselves all sorts of questions related to their identity.  Am I athletic and strong enough to play varsity?  Am I good looking and fashionable enough?  Do I have the cool clothes and gear?  Do I like the right kind of music?  Do I have the right friends?

Even long after high school, we measure ourselves by how we compare with our peers.  Depending on our values, we assess our self-worth based on things like our socio-economic status (house, neighborhood, cars, vacations, private schools), educational level, beauty, fashion, fitness, career success, and even our volunteer activities.

It’s human nature.  We judge ourselves (and each other) in every area that we value.  If we value athletics, then that is how we compare ourselves to others.  If we value fashion, then that is how we compare ourselves with others.  However, we need to learn that anytime we compare ourselves to anyone else, we are falling into a pitfall, a trap without any good results.

There are three possible outcomes when we compare ourselves with someone else:

Continue reading “The Pitfall of Comparison”

The Empty Nest

My children are just entering adolescence, so it surprised me that I had such a visceral reaction to this article about “the empty nest.”  It made me realize that these days – right here, right now – with my children are absolutely precious and fleeting.

Whatever you think of Dr. James Dobson, I think you will agree that this piece he wrote many years ago is a beautiful picture of a parent’s loving relationship with his child.  Enjoy.

“I’d like to revisit a letter that I wrote some time ago when my own son, Ryan, left home for college. His older sister had taken the same journey several years earlier, which meant that Ryan’s departure officially qualified Shirley and me as ‘empty nesters.’ As you will see, that experience made a profound impact on me.

James Ryan was my boy–the only son I would ever be privileged to raise. What a joy it was to watch him grow and develop and learn. How proud I was to be his father–to be trusted with the well-being of his soul. I put him to bed every night when he was small, and we laughed and we played and we talked to Jesus. I would hide his sister’s stuffed animals around the house, and then we turned out the lights and hunted them with flashlights and a toy rifle. He never tired of that simple game. But the day for games has passed.

Continue reading “The Empty Nest”

Role Models

Charles Barkley, the great basketball player and television personality, once said at the height of his NBA career, “I’m not a role model… Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids. If you want a role model, look up to your parents. A lot of guys can dunk a basketball who are in jail; should they be role models?”

Chuck caught a lot of heat for his seemingly callous remarks because it sure seemed that he just didn’t care about kids or anyone other than himself.  However, if you listened to his follow-up remarks, he clarified that kids should be looking up to their parents, coaches, teachers, and other adults who are sacrificing and training them in the real world.  In addition to being obnoxious and entertaining, Sir Charles was “tipping his cap” to the real heroes in the world and downplaying his own ability to inspire young people to true greatness.

He knew that he was not even remotely qualified for the job of role model.  And he certainly didn’t want any of that responsibility.  He half-joked, “I heard Tonya Harding is calling herself the Charles Barkley of figure skating. I was going to sue her for defamation of character, but then I realized I have no character.”

Now, some of us want to be role models for kids.  But if we are honest, we must admit that we aren’t worthy of the title “role model.”  We are all broken people with insecurities and character flaws.  And that is on our good days.  However, perfection is not a requirement for being a role model.
Continue reading “Role Models”

Success and Significance

Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, had some words to say about success.  It starts with a quiz.

Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.
Name five people who have won either the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
Name the last five Academy Award winners for best actor or actress.
Name the last five World Series winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remembers the headliners of yesterday.  They are not second-rate achievers.  They are the very best in their fields.  But the applause dies.  Awards tarnish.  Achievements are forgotten.  Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Now, try another quiz.Father Daughter Lake

Name five teachers who helped you through your journey through school.
Name five friends who helped you through a difficult time.
Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
Name five people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
Name five people with whom you enjoy spending time.

How did you do?

The point is that the people who make a difference in your life are NOT the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards.  They are the ones who care.

They are significant, not merely successful.

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