The Holidays Are a Magnifier

The Holidays — the six weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years — are a magnifier. In general, happy people get happier, sad people get sadder, lonely people get lonelier, etc. This is true for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.

For some, life is going pretty well, and the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, chock full of sentimental decorations, music, food, smells, and traditions that celebrate love, peace, family, friendship, and all that is good in life. The holidays are the icing on a good cake. Bring it on. All of it.

For others, the holidays are not so happy. Instead, it is a time full of the most painful reminders of what is not present in their lives.  Continue reading “The Holidays Are a Magnifier”

The Distance Run

CSC_0569I coach middle school cross country, which is not a glamorous job, but it is uniquely rewarding. For young distance runners, the hardest part is embracing the pain that creates stronger legs and faster times. I try to make practices and meets fun, but there is no way of getting around the fact that running really fast for 15-20 minutes is going to be painful, especially for growing little bodies.

Most of the kids who run cross country learn that without a healthy dose of pain every day they will not improve. No pain, no gain. Convincing kids of this is no easy task, but over time the sport tends to naturally reward those who fight through physical pain and emotional weakness.

When a young person develops some mental and physical toughness, they are growing up well. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress that these kids make over a season.

Some of my fellow coaches, Doug and Jennifer Meyer, use a fairy tale metaphor when explaining the need to persevere over a long distance. It also applies to many of life’s challenges that require stamina.

Parenting is a distance run, after all.

The Wolf

Somewhere in the middle of the race, there is a big bad wolf lurking around the corner. He will try to get you to slow down.

He sneaks up next to you and says things like, “Slow down. You’re hurting yourself. This is crazy. What’s the point of this? It’s not like you can win the race. You’re not very fast. Doesn’t this hurt? Just take it easy. No one will notice.”

The wolf doesn’t want you to work hard to achieve your goals. Continue reading “The Distance Run”

Raising Resilient Children

Rubber Band with white backgroundResilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to well-being. Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed, explains that even kids who grow up in the most difficult situations of poverty, abuse, neglect, and stress can rise up from the ashes. It may not be the norm for kids of adversity, but with help, they can do it. “The teenage years are difficult for almost every child, and for the children growing up in adversity, adolescence can often mark a terrible turning point, the moment when wounds produce bad decisions. But teenagers also have the ability—or at least the potential—to rethink and remake their lives in a way that the younger children do not.”

Young teenagers who are supported by family and adults who empower them will face life’s challenges with more guts and stamina than those who fly solo. Those who have a strong sense of belonging, hope, and purpose will hold up better in the face of obstacles. Good parenting can transform a child into a happy, healthy, successful young person.

Resilience is not callousness. It is toughness. I think of certain people in my life who exhibit toughness when it is necessary and sweet sensitivity when it is called for. I call it “kind strength.” Continue reading “Raising Resilient Children”

Families Should Be Tough

My wife is kind and compassionate, but she is one of the toughest people I have ever known. She does not have a mean bone in her body, but she is strong. She will tell you like it is and somehow make you feel like she is on your side. And when it comes to being a mom, nothing will stop her. She is tough for her children.

She is the kind of tough that can handle trials that makes most women wilt. Just ask anyone who knows her. And yet she is kind toward others and displays a genuinely positive attitude most of the time, even though her days are full of service to others and hard work.

Monica BelluciMy wife’s strength is a large part of her beauty. Mel Gibson once described his leading lady in The Passion, Monica Belluci, as someone who looked absolutely beautiful no matter how much grime that the makeup artists put on her. They kept trying to make her look like a beaten-down beleaguered Mother Mary, and they just couldn’t seem to get her to look bad enough. That’s my wife, metaphorically speaking.

She is an eternal optimist and can be an unstoppable force. You can slow her down. You can make her sick, you can make her cry, but you cannot ultimately stop her. You can put her child in the hospital for major surgery, and she will go toe-to-toe with any nurse, doctor, or therapist. You can take away her sleep and give her  a nasty sinus infection, but that won’t stop her. You can give her three days worth of work to do in one day and make her kids sick and whiney all day, but she will not give in. Day after day. You can knock her down, but you can’t knock her out. She is Rocky Balboa tough.

Beyond her ability to persevere, she is a protector of her children. She wants them to grow up strong, so she pushes them and is not afraid to let them struggle. She knows that strength comes from the struggle, so she passes that legacy along daily. Continue reading “Families Should Be Tough”

Connect With Your Young Teen

First Connect, Then Guide

celebrateThe best parents are the ones who are deeply connected with their children and offer support and guidance all along the path of life. They’re the ones who care enough to say, “No, you can’t do that, because I love you too much to let you settle for that.” And their children know that they mean it.

Good parenting is about being confident that you have a far higher calling than to just be a friend or dish out punishment. It is about being an authority who loves always and takes the time to guide and train a child to grow into an independent person. Continue reading “Connect With Your Young Teen”

Preparing for the Storm

If you have ever sat with a weather radio in a dark basement or closet during a tornado warning, or if you have ever hastily prepared for an oncoming hurricane, you know the anxiety that an approaching storm can bring. As a native Midwesterner with friends and relatives scattered about “tornado alley” and with a father who lives on the coast in Florida, I know a little about these times of uncertain anticipation of imminent danger.

Dark, Ominous Clouds Promise Rain and poor Weather.

The storms-of-life metaphor is an ancient archetype, as powerful today as it was thousands of years ago. Storms are used in nearly every movie, book, and play to create the setting for trouble, the mood of tension, and the dramatic dance between eerily-quiet darkness and the jolting of cracks of thunder, lightning, wind, and hail. And in many cases, heroes are made in storms. The Bible is full of stories of storms that radically alter and often ruin people’s lives. Storms are used by God in the Old and New Testament to judge the wicked, test the faithful, and reveal life’s harshness and God’s goodness in both justice and mercy. Through the ages, countless poems and songs have alluded to storms as a way to communicate the universal fear of destruction that moves every man, woman, and child to fears and tears.

The distant storm is a unique sort of crisis. At times, we face a slow-approaching storm in our life, one that we can see steadily advancing toward us for days, weeks, or even months. Continue reading “Preparing for the Storm”

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Anne Lamott says that in her experience the two most powerful prayers are “Help me, help me, help me.” and “Thank you, thank, you, thank you.”

We are so grateful for our recent trip to Laguna Beach, California.  The Dream Factory granted our family a first-class vacation that would suit the special needs and wishes of our daughter, Kathryn.  They paid for and arranged all the details of a trip that we unanimously hail as the best family vacation we have ever had. Thank you, Bene Messmer and all the volunteers and donors at The Dream Factory!

Continue reading “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!”

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”

Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes

I’m grading papers on the second to last day of the school year.  I’m grading fast, trying to finish ASAP, so I can go run some errands.  I am more than a little ready to get out from behind my desk and browse around the hardware store, before heading home.  Teaching in May is exhausting.  And in walks Ian, who is in a very happy mood.

Ian is a junior (a senior in just 24 hours) who was an English student of mine five years ago when he was in seventh grade.  Back then, he was a trainwreck academically (he’s the first to admit that).  In spite of his positive attitude and a love for books and acting, he was a woeful writer.  He routinely earned D’s and F’s on his papers, especially on essays of any length.  He could talk your ear off, and he was terrific in dramatic performance, but writing was a source of constant frustration.  Truly, his spelling, handwriting, and syntax were awful.  Trust me.  It was scary.

Continue reading “Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes”

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

It’s a Wonderfully Difficult Life

 

It’s a Wonderful Life strikes a chord — several chords — deep in my soul, every time I watch it.  Most importantly, it makes me want to be a better man and to live my life as well as I can for my friends, family, and community. Deep down, I want to be counted in the ranks of the George Baileys of the world.  And if I can’t, then I want my son to get there upon my shoulders.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” should be required viewing for every young person growing up.  Anyone over the age of ten should see this movie with their parents, grandparents, or any adult who cares enough to explain what’s going on as the film rolls.  If you haven’t seen it in a few years, do so.  And bring a kid along for the ride.

This movie says it all about growing up well.  It does not hide the truth that life is hard, and it’s even harder for those who choose to serve others.  It teaches just about every character trait you would want to see in a young man or woman.  In no way is it an easy life — just ask George Bailey — but it’s worth it all.

Here’s a fun little trivia game for lovers of this movieClick here


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 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”

Training Up Independent Kids

Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers

Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success.  He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.

The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes.  You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems.  You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles.  And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.

“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy
.” (Silk 51)  In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.

Continue reading “Training Up Independent Kids”

Heart-to-Heart Connection

Parenting, teaching, and coaching are mutual pursuits.  At this stage in my life, I am involved in all three, and I firmly believe that the daily problems I face, the skills I develop, and the lessons I learn are parallel.  So, when I recently read a book on parenting, it actually spoke more to me as a teacher and coach.  The book is Loving Our Kids on Purpose: Making a Heart-to-Heart Connection by Danny Silk.

At first, I was not impressed because I had pre-judged the book by the back cover; however, the more I read, the more I found it to be insightful and helpful.  I kept thinking about my behavior as a classroom teacher – how there are so many times when I win the battle but lose the war with kids.  PunishmentI began to see more problems with my behavior, and I eventually gained both inspiration and vision to change, along with some excellent practical advice for parenting.
This will be the first of a four-part series related to the book, in which I comment on some its most profound truths.

The Power of Connection

The goal (of parenting) isn’t to get them to clean their room; it is to strengthen the connection to your heart. We will deal with the room, but if we lose the connection, we’ve lost the big stuff.  We may win the battle, but we’ve lost the war.” (176)

Continue reading “Heart-to-Heart Connection”

Don’t Baby Them

BENEFITS OF STRUGGLING

“A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life.  If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. And we could never fly.”

chrysalis

I got this in an email forward, years ago.  It’s simple, yet profoundly important in relation to helping 10-14 year olds in their struggle in the chrysalis of adolescence.

Too often adults expect too little of the kids in their care.  Adults can cripple kids by solving every problem for them or by removing every painful thorn in their path.  It’s best not to baby them too much.  They need to stretch and writhe in solving their own problems in order to grow up strong enough to solve much bigger problems later in life.

Continue reading “Don’t Baby Them”

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