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Tag Archives: Parenting

“Vulnerable Conversation with Toby Mac about Grief and Loss”

“I started to learn to laugh, even in the first week a little bit, but not laugh as deeply, you know?” I don’t know if I’ll ever laugh as deeply. I don’t know if I’ll ever smile as big. But I can smile, and I can laugh. I don’t know if it will ever be–until eternity–if it will ever be fully.” (2:50 mark of video)

Dear God, I heard this interview yesterday and it struck a chord with me. Especially this quote. Especially as a parent, I think when we go through some sort of loss, whether it is a wayward child, a broken relationship, or the tragedy of death, when we are apart from them for any negative reason, I don’t think it’s ever possible to laugh as deeply or smile as big. There is always a cloud. Always an omnipresent pit in my stomach. I’m just grateful that you are omnipresent as well.

In the Bible in a Year podcast I’m listening to, they were covering the part of the Joseph story in Genesis where Judah is pleading with Joseph for Benjamin’s life (Genesis 44:18-34). Judah describes Jacob’s pain, and it reminds me of what Toby was saying in the video above. This brash, conniving, manipulating scoundrel was devastated by Joseph’s loss. Judah couldn’t bear to watch him lose Benjamin too.

I guess I had this sort of loss for about 10 years now. Neither of my children died, but I’ve been in some state of brokenness with one of both of them constantly over that time. And it’s true, what Toby said. I can laugh again, but it’s never been as deep. And I’ve smiled, but it’s never been as big. Mercifully, at least up to this point, the difference is that I have a hope that restoration is still possible. My time with them on this side of heaven is not sealed and lost forever. That’s why I pray for them. That’s why I hope. That’s why I burn candles. That’s why I worship. As Toby also said right before the quote above, you find us in the pit (or we find you there). If our pain is omnipresent, so are you.

Father, I pray for Toby and his wife. I pray for the rest of their family as well. I pray for my own family. Comfort and guide all of us. I am trusting that this is the path you need for all of us to walk to ultimately work your own wonder in each of our lives. Thank you for continuously sitting with me in this pain. Thank you for raising up people around me, including my wife, who are an encouragement and comfort to me. Thank you for loving me, my wife, and my children so completely.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4

Dear God, I was wondering something earlier this week. What did a daily spiritual walk look like for Christians during the time that Paul wrote this letter? There was so much for people to learn about Jesus and the New Covenant you had given them. There was even more for Gentiles to learn about you and who you are. And it’s not like there were bookstores with a lot of written material. And a lot of them were probably not literate anyway.

I say that because it really puts a different light on these letters. The churches to whom they were sent NEEDED these letters. Outside of oral teaching that I’m sure could be very suspect, information, instruction, and admonitions like this were probably all they had. There were no books on how to be a good husband or father, but the apostles took the time to instruct people.

In this case, fatherhood and how we do it is very important. The command here to not exasperate our children is an interesting one. Another common translation says, “…do not provoke your children to anger.” It would be easy to say to not abuse them, but Paul chose to think about the child’s perspective. Now, maybe this was easy for him to say because he hadn’t been a father. I can tell you, there were time that all I had to say was, “Good morning,” to my teen children and it would provoke anger. But I think Paul’s underlying subtext here is to encourage me to always try to put myself in my child’s shoes. The job I do raising them is t about me. It’s about them.

Father, help me to empathize with my children. Help me to love them well, even as they are now young adults. Help me to do the same with others. For each person with whom I interact, help me to empathize with them and respond to them with your love for them.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2019 in Ephesians

 

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Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Deuteronomy 6:6-7
And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.

 

Dear God, I think it’s impossible to be a good parent. Well, I take that back. I think there are some people out there who are good parents. I’ll rephrase. I really tried, but as I look back on my parenting all I see is failure and mistakes. I wasn’t strict enough here. I was too strict there. I didn’t pray enough here. I was too spiritual there.

I was talking to a woman yesterday who adores her father and talked about all of the lessons and wisdom he imparted to her. I was sitting there admiring the heck out of the guy and wishing I was more like him, but then I remembered something. This woman, who is in her late 20s now, ended up leaving home and moving in with her boyfriend while she was still in high school. She is married to the boyfriend now, but I am sure that that felt like tremendous failure to that father in the moment. Of course, now, the woman is one of the most admirable people I know. I admire both her and her husband greatly. But I’m sure her life and how things were going didn’t always look that promising to her parents.

One thing that I tend to get from you more and more the closer I get to you is that you have made room in your plan for my failures. While I can do some damage, to be sure, in the broad scheme of things, your overall plan has allowed for my mistakes. You are always working for the good for those who love you (Romans 8:28), whether we can see it or not. In the case of this woman, she talked about the struggles she experienced through her choices and how they made her stronger. Her father is very pleased with her now. I’m sure he couldn’t see it at the time, but you were working all things together for the good of those who love you.

Father, I have a lot of work today, and I have a lot of opportunities to really blow it, but I am going to trust you that this path is ordained. Whether it has struggle waiting for me, or even failure, I trust that you will use my work–my life–for your glory. I submit it all to you. To paraphrase an “invitation hymn” from my Baptist days, all to you I surrender. All to you I freely give. I will ever love and trust you. In your presence daily live. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee my blessed savior, I surrender all.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

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My Utmost for His Highest

Dear God, I was reading a friend’s blog this morning–it’s a weekly that I never miss. He talked about finding work that is within your gifting and how there is really nothing quite like it. I resonated with it. I’m in a job right now that I really do love, and my skillset seems to fit what’s required of me to be effective. It stretches me. It stretches my faith. I’m still wholly dependent upon you for the success of the organization, and I still do my best to give you the glory for the good that we do. But I feel really good about my career and am not seeking anything else.

As Fred’s blog progressed, however, he talked about Peter and how Jesus called him out of his natural proclivity for fishing and made him a “shepherd” instead. This wasn’t necessarily in Peter’s gifting, but he certainly had specific gifts of personality and ability that he brought to the job. One gift was his boldness. The church needed Peter in a way that it didn’t need John. For example, in Acts 3:1-10 Peter and John are walking to the Temple when a man “crippled from birth” calls to them for money. “Peter looked at him, as did John.” (verse 4) But it was Peter who spoke. It was Peter who called on Jesus’ power to heal the man. John was great, but he was often just a witness. The church wouldn’t have grown nearly as much if John had been the rock on which Jesus built his church. Being a “shepherd” might not have been in Peter’s wheelhouse, but it wasn’t “Peter’s Utmost for Peter’s Happiest.” It’s “Peter’s Utmost for Your Highest.” (For anyone reading this, this title and these quoted phrases are a reference to a daily devotion by Oswald Chambers called “My Utmost for His Highest.”)

This part of Fred’s blog got me to thinking about the things I’ve been called to do at which I didn’t turn out to be very good. One was parenting a teenager. Maybe there are a lot of people who would say that no one is good at parenting a teenager–and there might be some truth to that. For me, however, this is an area at which I feel like a complete failure. My children are older now and out of the house, but I still feel like I am an inadequate father for them. My prayer is that you are giving something that they specifically need through me of which I’m not aware. You made me their parent for a reason. I know I’ve prayed for them every day. I have faith that you have your hand directing their lives in ways that I cannot see. Part of that faith is believing that there is something I’m giving them as a father that I can’t see either.

Father, I give you my utmost for your highest in every aspect of my life. Of course, I will fail at this pledge, but I promise I’m not intentionally holding anything back. At this point, while my happiness is not irrelevant, it is certainly secondary (or even tertiary) to your will, your plan, and my duty to love you with all of my strength and love my neighbor as myself. You might now have happiness for me down this path, but I am assured by your word that you have peace for me there.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

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Emails to God – “I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman

Tomorrow morning if you wake up
and the sun does not appear
I will be here
If in the dark, we lose sight of love
Hold my hand, and have no fear
‘Cause I will be here

I will be here
When you feel like being quiet
When you need to speak your mind
I will listen
And I will be here
When the laughter turns to cryin’
Through the winning, losing and trying
We’ll be together
I will be here

Tomorrow morning, if you wake up
And the future is unclear
I will be here
Just as sure as seasons were made for change
Our lifetimes were made for these years
So I will be here

I will be here
And you can cry on my shoulder
When the mirror tells us we’re older
I will hold you
And I will be here
To watch you grow in beauty
And tell you all the things you are to me
I will be here

I will be true to the promise I have made
To you and to the One who gave you to me

Tomorrow morning, if you wake up
And the sun does not appear
I will be here
Oh, I will be here

Dear God, this song was played and sung by my wife’s aunt at our wedding twenty years ago tomorrow. My wife chose it to be a part of the ceremony. Funny, but I always heard it as being from me to her. It never occurred to me until this moment that it might have been her message to me from her. Maybe I thought that because it is a man singing it to a woman, but now I feel kind of foolish that I never heard it as her singing it to me.

I just listened to a recording of SCC and his wife talking about the loss of a young daughter in a tragic accident. Listening to their story, I couldn’t imagine the pain they felt. I couldn’t imagine the fear of the future. The divorce rate for couples losing a child is over 80%. They both said that they consciously said to each other right after the loss, “We are not going there. We are not even considering divorce.”

I look at these words now, think about when SCC wrote them, and how naïve they seem in the wake of the pain they have experienced. Did he really mean it? Did he really know what he was committing to?

Father, I think that is part of the beauty of commitment if we take that commitment seriously regardless of the circumstances. Sure, if we knew how hard something would be in advance we might not do it. But we rarely know. I am going through challenges at work right now. I didn’t know how hard it would get when I interviewed for the job almost seven years ago. I didn’t know how hard parenting would be when I agreed to start trying to become a father seventeen years ago. I didn’t know how hard marriage would be when I asked my wife to marry me 21 years ago. But my job needs me, my children need me, and my wife need me. And so as long as I have breath, I will be here.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Hymns and Songs

 

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Emails to God – Salvation, Grace, and Sex Ed

When one of my children prayed to accept Christ, I found myself at a little bit of a loss. The child was an early teen and, having once been an early teen who foolishly felt compelled to go through the process of salvation over and over again because I felt like it didn’t take the previous 20 times, I felt a huge burden to plant initial seeds that would sustain them regardless of what their spiritual path would hold.

How does sex education fit into this? The best marriage book I ever read was Sacred Marriage by a guy named Gary Thomas. The subtitle of the book describes his thesis: What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us happy? I went through this book with a men’s group, and Mr. Thomas wisely left the chapter about sex close to the end because I think that’s why most of us in the group were reading the book. In fact, I think we stopped reading it after we got to that chapter. But in that chapter he had a unique point. He said, paraphrasing, that most of us (especially men) have a warped sense of sex as adults because the first time we were ever exposed to the concept of sex was through a worldly, non-Biblical lens. Perhaps it was pornography, or other kids talking at school. Maybe it was something in a movie or on TV. But what would it be like if our FIRST exposure to sex was in the framework within which God intended it to be? Would that impact how we experience it as adults?

My wife and I decided to take this challenge and “beat the world to the punch” when it came to our kids learning about sex. We went to the local Christian bookstore and found a book we felt comfortable sharing with our five-year-old son (and later with our daughter when she was about five). It was designed to specifically discuss sex in a way that God intended it for our lives (in an age-appropriate way). While I will probably never know for sure, in just observing my children, it feels like they are free from at least of a few of the hangups that have haunted me.

That brings me to my child’s salvation experience. I have this young, 13-year-old child who has just made the most important decision of their life. If I can only give them one lesson, what will it be? I went to the bookshelf in our study for some help. What I found was Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. I decided that the most important message I could share with my child was that God’s grace, love, and acceptance is not about our effort, but His. He loves us radically, and there is nothing we can do to change it.

Not wanting to intimidate my child with a Christian self-help book on their first day as a new Christian, I decided to make up a “Cliff’s Notes” kind of version of the first chapter. If they liked it I would do more. So I put three Bible passages together with 19 bullet points from a 20-page chapter onto two pieces of paper and gave it to them. My prayer is to thank God for bringing my child to faith and ask that He will use the foundation of a strong understanding of His grace to build the rest of their relationship with Him.

If any of you have suggestions about other things parents can do to help their children lay a good foundation and nurture further growth, please feel free to share them here.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Musings and Stories

 

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Emails to God – Was Jesus Good With Kids? (Matthew 19:13-15)

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Dear God, I wonder if Jesus was good with children. We always get this picture that artists have rendered of Jesus sitting under a tree with children in his lap and him smiling at or laughing with them. But would that really have been the case? Maybe. But, as a father who is trying to make his way through parenting teens, I would love to have seen Jesus in action as a father of a teen. What would Jesus’ son have looked like? What about his daughter? How would they have acted and responded to his authority. More importantly, how would he have imposed his authority upon them?

I suppose the best example of this that we have is the idea of you as our father and how you respond to us. The problem I have with this is that I think you give us too little structure and too much freedom. I can see that model working if my kids are adults and gone and having to live on their own. But right now, by your power and grace, I am trying to raise them and train them into adults who will be able to live successful lives that are willingly submitted to you. Basically, I don’t believe I can give them the freedom as children that you give us as adults, and if I can’t give them that freedom then where do I draw the line?

Father, being a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done, bar none. Nothing has been more complicated and challenging. I really thought I would be better at it, but you have seemingly used it to humble me and bring me to my knees before you. I was in church Sunday and I missed the first half of the service. I was just praying. I was asking for parental unity between my wife and me. I was asking for you to raise up voices in my children’s lives that will draw them into you. I was asking that you give me wisdom as I raise them. I was asking that you parent them through me. I was asking that you continue to purge any of the sin in my own life that might be impacting them and their lives. Those were my prayers then and they are my prayers now. Please do this. I cannot do it on my own. I need to rely on and rest in you.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Matthew

 

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