I AM THE DAD: Dream On

I am the dad of three really good, sweet, kids.  They are each unique and a joy. I really do believe in them and the possibilities for their lives in so many ways.

Two of my three are at the age where they are painting the pictures in their minds of “what could be” one day when they are grown.  My daughter, who is 13, is creative.  She sings, she paints, she draws, she acts, she plays the ukulele. I know she pictures herself performing on the “big stage” in some way. The other day I asked all three of my kids what they dreamed of doing one day.  Her answer, “be an actor in a Disney show.”  I love that dream!

My oldest son will turn 11 soon.  When I asked him what he dreamed of doing one day, he had two answers.  His biggest dream is to play basketball in the NBA. His second dream is to work for LEGO as a LEGO designer.

My youngest son is 5.  When I asked him what he wanted be when he grew up he said, “Be like Emmet in the LEGO movie, play basketball, play football, play baseball, and drive a rocket-ship.” I am good with those.

I love the big dreams of my kids.  Their dreams are so pure, exciting, and realistic in their minds.

As their dad, I want them to pursue their dreams.  I don’t want to push them into pursuing what I think should be their dreams. I also know that odds are stacked against them in some of their dreams.

So what do I do?  How do I encouraging them without burdening them?  How do I help them hold on to their dreams and teach them about the hard work it takes to make them a reality?  How do I help them enjoy what they are doing and not put pressure on them to be the greatest in the world?  How do I make sure I am not just trying to vicariously live out my dreams through them?

Then, how do I help them when their dreams may start to fade into the abyss of reality? As a dreamer myself, I am really not a fan of reality sometimes.

I don’t have an answer.  I don’t have “5 ways to make them better”, “3 things to always do to help my kids be successful”, or “The 1 secret to helping them get there.”

So for now I have just decided to dream with them.  Or as Steven Tyler would say “Dream on!” There is enough reality all day every day.  They will do their school work.  We will walk through the ups and downs of growing up. We will deal with the realities of the moment. I am not going to fill their egos with unrealistic thoughts of guaranteed success.  But, I want them to have the freedom to dream. I want them to dream. They need to dream. We can come up with a “backup plan” later.

I want to imagine the amazing performance or game winning shot with them.  I want to talk about how awesome it could be.  I want to toss in a poke and prod of “it takes commitment and hard work”.  I want to help them find opportunities to explore their dreams. I want to make sure they know that I love watching them pursue their dreams. I want Emily to know that I love to watch her act, hear her sing and play.  I want James to know that I love to watch him drive to the basket. I want to re-live his “highlights” with him.   I want Andy to know that flying a rocket-ship would be AWESOME!

I want to make sure they know that I believe in them and will do anything for them along the way.

Above all though, I want them to know that it is not what they do, whether they are successful or not, that determines their value or my love for them.  Their value is set for all eternity by Truth. Their value is set in the eternal reality that they are loved by God.  That is not a dream they have to pursue.  That is the reality they live in now and forever.

All that to say, I just want to love them well on the road to their dreams or to wherever life may take them.

Dream on.

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I AM THE DAD: Baptism, I had the best seat in the house.

Being a dad is an amazing journey that brings out almost every emotion imaginable. Most of the time I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. Often I think to myself, “whom am I to be a dad”. I feel inadequate. I feel immature. I feel unworthy. But then I look deep into my three children and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

I have been entrusted the precious gift of Emily, James and Andy. I have experienced so many great moments as a dad but this past Sunday was near the top of the list so far.

I had the privilege of baptizing Emily and James. Walking with them in their spiritual journey has been so sweet. Shelley and I have never pressured them but we have been very intentional to create an environment where the things of God are normal. We talk about the Bible. We pray together. We allow them to ask questions and have doubts. We talk about what it means to follow Jesus and live a life for him. But, we have never “put the squeeze” on them and forced them to do anything.

I know that the only One who can change their hearts is God.

As we have worked to nurture a home around the things of God and tried to model faith in Christ to them, we have seen God work in them. They can both tell you about how they came to faith in Christ.

Emily and James have both asked about being baptized for over year but we didn’t want to push them into that. It has been important to us that they understand what they are doing. We believe that nothing “magical” happens when you are baptized. It is a symbolic act of obedience. It is an outward representation of what has happened in their hearts. As we have told them many times, baptism is their public statement that they are followers of Jesus and want to live for Him.

There is no doubt in us that Emily and James are followers of Jesus. So, we asked them, “are you ready for everyone else to know.” And they both said, “yes.”

Sunday, September 20, 2015, they were baptized at Community Bible Church, Fort Smith and it was beautiful. What was even more special is that I was able to baptize them.

When the moment came, I held Emily’s hand and walked with her through the pack of kids sitting on the floor who had come into the worship center to watch. James followed. I helped Emily into the baptistery, which is literally a horse trough, and she sat down. At this point I began to get a bit choked up. I knew that I would. I am unapologetically a dad who cries at stuff.

When she sat down I kissed her on the head and whispered in her ear, “I love you and am proud of you.” She looked up at me sweetly as I asked her (through my tears), “are you ready for everyone to know that you are a follower of Jesus?” She said “yes”. As I slowly laid her back into the water, without thinking about it, I whispered the words “my sister”. That is who she is in Christ. My sister. As I raised her up from the water, representing the resurrection of Jesus, I let out a good “WHOO!”

I helped Emily out and James walked over and I helped him into the trough. I looked at my little man and kissed him on the head and whispered in his ear, “I love you and am proud of you.” He whispered back, “I love you too.” I think he felt sorry for me and all my crying. Then I asked James, “Are you ready for everyone to know that you follow Jesus?” And he said “yes”. Then I slowly laid him back, raised him up and let out a solid, “WHOO!”

It was beautiful. To be able to walk with them in their spiritual journey and then to be in that moment was such a gift. I was purposeful in laying them back slowly because I wanted capture every second of it in my mind. I also didn’t want to create a big splash thus electrifying our guitar player. I wanted to ingrain in my memory the moment they held their breath and closed their eyes. I wanted to capture the feeling of them holding on to my arm as I laid them back. I wanted see their sweet faces go into the water and come out.

I had the best seat in the house and it was a gift.

Now, my prayer is that we will continue to nurture a home that is around the things of God. I pray that the day will come when Andy will place his faith in Christ. I know they will make mistakes, but I pray that all three of them will be spared some of the choices I made growing up. I pray that they will love God’s Word. I pray that they will grow in their love for God and find joy in Him. I really love them!

I also pray that they will know, even though their earthly dad doesn’t know what he is doing, their heavenly Dad does and He loves them more than they can imagine.

What a good day.

I Am the Dad: An Adventure with James

A couple of years ago I decided to start a tradition during Christmas when I would spend an entire day with each of my children. This has been such a fun way to nurture my relationship with each of them.

The adventures haven’t always gone exactly as planned, but they have provided great stories.

Two Christmases ago James had decided that he wanted to hike to the top of a mountain on our day together. It would be his first mountain to hike. So I scouted out our mountain and started planning our day. Unfortunately James got sick during Christmas and our adventure had to be postponed.

But, I was committed. I want my kids to know that when I say I am going to do something, I follow through. I want to be a dad of my word.

We were living in Clemson, SC at the time and were planning to jump the border into Georgia and hike to the top of Rabun Bald. Rabun Bald is the second highest point in Georgia at nearly 4700 feet. It was going to be a great hike.

It took waiting until April for everything to be in order. A great mountain. A beautiful day. Good health. It all came to pass Easter weekend. We got up that morning and went to the early church service and then headed to the mountains.

Our plan was simple enough. Drive about an hour. Stop for lunch, at the place of James’ choosing. Change clothes and then get to the trail. We were starting later than I wanted but I knew we would be fine as long as we didn’t waste much time at lunch

We stopped for lunch where all great mountain climbers fuel up for the climb, McDonalds. Nothing like McNuggets before the climb.

As soon as we ate the last bite I was ready to get going. I grabbed our bag of clothes as James and I rushed into the bathroom to change.

Now for the, “haven’t always gone as planned part.” As we were casually changing into our mountain man clothes in the stall, I heard the voice of child talking. As I thought to myself, “That is a funny sounding boy”, I realized it was the voice of a very young girl. My first thought was something like, “A dad must be here with his daughter and had to bring her in the men’s room.”  I had done that when my daughter was younger. You just get them in and out as fast as you can. You do what you have to do.

Then, I heard the parent speak.

It was the voice of a woman. Not good.

Now my first thought was, “They are in the wrong bathroom. This is going to be awkward for them. Can’t they read bathroom signs?” As I processed the moment further, I began to question my own geographical certainties. “Where am I?”

As I carefully and fearfully peaked through the crack in the stall door, I saw another person walk in and my geographical uncertainties cleared up.

It was woman.

We were trapped in the McDonalds women’s bathroom.

Half in church clothes. Half in hiking clothes. One shoe on. One shoe off. I looked at James and in a panic motioned for him to remain silent. As my eyes looked down and to the right, I could see the feet of the lady in the stall next to us.

All that was between us and this unsuspecting lady was ¾ inches of bathroom stall wall. Not good. Not good at all.

We grabbed everything in our arms and waited for the mother/daughter pair to leave. As long as the lady in the stall next to us stayed there for about 5 more seconds and no one else came in, I believed we could get out. We would have to be fast.

I motioned to James to get ready to run and not to stop. I counted to three with my fingers and we ran.

Making it out in time we stopped to gain our composure at a booth far from bathrooms. At this point I just wanted to find my keys and get out of there as fast as possible. I found my keys but my wallet was nowhere to be found. It then dawned on me that I might have dropped it in the ladies room.

What do I do now? Let’s just say that there is nothing like explaining to a teenage McDonald’s employee that you may have left your wallet in the ladies room when you are not lady. You should give it try.

I got my wallet.

James and I went to the car and laughed hard. I also thought to myself, “That’s almost the kind of stuff grown-ups got to jail for.”

We did make to the trail and ultimately to the top of Rabun Bald. We laughed all the way up and down the mountain about our adventure in the ladies room at McDonalds.

FYI – We always double check the bathroom signs these days.

027

At the start of the hike

030

4700 ft above sea level. The top!

I am a Dad: How My Son From Africa Exposed My Ugliness

About 4 years ago I would have never considered myself to be racist in any way. By that I mean, I would not have thought of myself as someone who thinks he is more valuable than someone because of a difference in race. I wouldn’t refer to people of a different color or ethnicity in derogatory ways. I wouldn’t knowingly treat people different than me in a devaluing way. I have had roommates in college, close friends and coworkers who are from multiple ethnic groups.

Then something happened. We began to the process of adopting a child from Ethiopia, Africa. We were about to become a multi-racial family.

Father and son.

Father and son.

As I looked towards the future of having a black son, I became extremely sensitive to race issues. Anything I heard that was remotely racist would bother me and at times make me angry.

It was as though my antennas went up and I started becoming more aware and sensitive to other people saying things like,

  • “We had some black neighbors once and they were really nice.” As if it would be expected for black neighbors not to be nice.
  • “We take our car to get worked on by Mr. Smith, the black man at the shop and he does good work”. I have never heard a white person say, “I get my car worked on by Mr. Smith, the white man at the shop, and he does good work.”
  • “Well you know, there are blacks and then there n—–. There is a difference you know.”  Then to hear them try justify their statement with, “Well, there’s white people and white trash”, as though either of those judgements are “ok”.

There were even things said about us and our new son that were blatantly hateful. All of those stereotypes and judgments began to bother me more than ever.

But, me a racist? Never. Right? After all I was about to bring a black child into my family.

Then something began to happen that I did not expect. At some point in our journey, as I was getting more bothered by what others would say or do, I began to realize my own ugliness. I was a great example of Matthew 7:3, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.”

I began to see my “plank”.

Again, it was not flagrant racism, but subtle, elusive, deeply ingrained racism. The kind that would look at someone of another race with slightly different eyes. The kind that would refer to someone of another race as “them”. The kind that would believe, just a little, that I was better. The kind of racism that wouldn’t fully trust some people, simply because of their skin color.

It was sickening to me. I realized that I was racist. I did not like it and knew that my heart needed to change.

I have wondered if this below the surface racism is more dangerous than overt racism because it is harder to recognize in ourselves. Since it is harder to recognize it may never be dealt with. If it is never dealt with then we allow it to effect the way we relate to others not like us our entire lives.

It is sad that it has taken such a dramatic life event for me to see this part about myself but I am thankful that I have seen it. Once I began to see it, I began to ask God to forgive me and change my heart. I began to ask Him to give me a greater love and respect for ALL people. I began to ask God to give me a greater understanding of what life will be like as my son, Andy, grows up.

These are a few of the thoughts I am having on this journey. I don’t even know if they are “right thoughts” but they are helping me move forward in honesty and truth.

1) Racism runs much deeper in us than we imagine so we need to dig deep to find it and get it out.

I assume that there is more in my heart in regards to race that still needs to change. We are all impacted so much by our culture and heritage that we are almost blind to it. Our thoughts and perspectives on people and life are deeply ingrained in us. Whether they are good things or bad things like racism, they are in our hearts and we need to see them. The prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?”  I need the Spirit of God to continue to change my heart towards all types of people. I don’t want Him to stop working in me until He is finished.

2) The goal is not to just change how I think but to help change the future for my son and others.

I know that my heart is a work in progress but so is our culture when it comes to race. Though I honestly haven’t figured out my role yet, I want to do what I can fight for my son’s future. The more I think about the fight, the more it overwhelms me. But, it is not just a good fight, it is the right fight. I was reminded last week as my family watched videos of Dr. Martin Luther king Jr.’s speeches, we need to fight for what matters. And what matters is people of every color being treated for who they are, individuals individuals made in the image of God.

When my son, Andy, is a grown man, I long for the world to be better for him. This may seem self-centered, but I also want Andy and my other kids to know that their dad was in the fight.

3) Skin color does matter but not for the sake of determining someone’s value.

I understand the statement people make, “I don’t see skin color”. I think what they are saying is they don’t see skin color as a determiner of a person’s value, which is good. But, when I look at Andy, I do see skin color. He is brown from head to toe. That is how God made him and it matters. His color reminds me of his heritage. It reminds of how he will be treated differently in our systems than my other children.

If I ignore Andy’s color then I may never see the different struggles he will walk through in life. For me to be the best dad that I can be for Andy, I want to honor who he is, color and all.

I am a dad, and hopefully a less racist dad now than ever.

Cheese

Cheese

I Am the Dad: How NOT to Teach a Life Lesson to Your Kids

As parents, we have moments when we think we are going to be geniuses and teachers of great life lessons to our kids. This was kind of one of those moments. Well, it was actually me being a softy and calling it “teaching a great life lesson.”

Let me make a couple of disclaimers before you read any further.

1) There is no big point to this blog entry even though the title might lead you to think so.
2) We spank our kids. We have never spanked them much but we have spanked them. That may turn some of you off to this story.

When Emily was younger, she went through a stretch where she lied a lot. She would lie about all kinds of stuff, big and small. Some of the lies were the classic, “If I lie about this I won’t get in trouble for what I have done” lies. There would be other times when we could not figure for the life of us why she would lie.

It became such an issue that we came up with a rule. “If you tell a lie, you always get a spanking”. It was a guarantee. It was pretty much the only thing that we spanked her for and our spankings were not intense.

So, she would lie. We would spank.

When we proved faithful to our promise, she started learning. But, she is not perfect and would still slip into her 4 year old deceitful ways from time to time.

It got to the point with her that if she was caught in a lie, she would start crying before the spanking even happened. This made it tough for me.

Now, it is important to know that I am a softy. I may give off a rough and tough exterior but the truth is that I am a 90lb weakling on the inside when it comes to my kids.

So, a day comes, and Emily tells a lie and she gets caught. You tell a lie. You get a spanking. It is the rule.

It just so happened that I was extra soft that day and really had no desire to give a spanking. But, a rule is a rule. When there is a lie, there is a spanking.

As we walked to her room she immediately began to cry over the spanking that was about to come her way. I started to cave. I couldn’t do it.

I needed an “out”.

ENTER BRILLIANT “TEACHING A GREAT LIFE LESSON” IDEA! I think to myself, “I am a going to teach Emily about the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ.” In the Bible it is the rule, when a sin is committed there must be a payment. And the ultimate payment was God coming in the flesh as Jesus and taking the punishment we deserve on the cross. It was a once and for all payment.

It was and is the ultimate act of love and I was about to give the perfect image of this love to my daughter.

I carefully explained the fall of man and how it separated us from God. I explained the need of a payment to restore our relationship with Him. I told the story of Jesus, and His death on the cross. I explained that He was punished when we should have been.

Then, with great drama, I said, “It is like when you lie. There has to be a spanking. You deserve a spanking and a spanking will be given.”

“Emily. What I am about to do is because I love you. I am going to take the spanking for you”.

Then I reached over and picked a toy frying pan (which I would have NEVER spanked her with) and began to smack myself on the leg as hard as I could. Several times. Over and over.

Just like you are thinking right now, Emily was looking at me like I was CRAZY!

Was she thinking about Jesus? I am pretty sure she wasn’t.

When I was done beating my leg, leaving a big red mark on it, I asked her how that made her feel. She looks at me with a big grin and says, “I’m not getting a spanking?”

She came bouncing out of the room laughing and smiling, “Mommy! I didn’t get a spanking! Daddy spanked himself with my frying pan!”

Shelley, “He did what?”

Emily, “Daddy gave himself a spanking and I didn’t get one!”

Me, “Emily, why did I do that?”

Emily, “I have no idea.”

Lesson – You can’t teach your kid about God’s love by hitting yourself with a frying pan.

I am the dad.

I brushed their teeth with cortisone cream…I am their dad.

I am a dad. Even though that has been true for over 11 years now, it is still hard for me to believe. It is hard to believe that I have been entrusted with caring for and raising 3 precious little people.

photo

On my 45th birthday with Emily, James, and Andy

 

In many ways I still feel like an irresponsible 20 year old (not that all 20 year olds are irresponsible, but I was) who is still fumbling his way through life. But, now I have a wife of 16 years, an 11 yr old, 8 yr old, and 3 yr old child along for the fumbling.

I have done all kinds of fumbling.

There was that time I fumbled my way through having Emily and James brush their teeth when they were very young. I had just finished bathing them and put the toothpaste on the toothbrush. I told them, “brush your teeth!” As they began, they immediately complained about the taste of the toothpaste. In a tone that was a little too harsh, I said, “It’s just a new flavor! Brush!” They kept complaining. So I grabbed the toothpaste only to notice it wasn’t toothpaste but cortisone cream. Oops. At least, their teeth didn’t itch anymore….

There was also a couple of days ago while fumbling through the potty training my 3 yr old that I grabbed the wrong wipes. Who knew there was difference between flushable baby wipes and bleach disinfectant wipes? Well, I know now and so does Andy.

I have made much bigger fumbles than these for sure! These just make me laugh.

I am a dad.

There are a lot of thing about being a dad that makes me nervous and they all fit under the heading of,

“I wonder how badly I am messing up my children.”

That sounds so negative! But, I am assuming that since I am an imperfect person that my imperfections will be fumbled down to my kids in some way.

I know I could be a much worse dad, but I also know that I am a far from perfect dad. I wonder, when my kids are grown, what they will look back on and say (good and bad) “I learned that from my dad.”

When they get married one day, what good or bad baggage will they carry from me into their understanding of marriage?

When they have kids of their own, what good or bad baggage will they carry from me into their lives as parents?

What will they think about God because of me?

Who knows? But, I know I am the dad that will affect all of those things and many more.

Here are a few things I hope for that I hope are the right things to hope for.
1) That they will see their dad as someone who loves God and walks deeply with Him.
2) That they will see what it looks like to live by faith.
3) That they will see what it looks like to admit you’re wrong and ask for forgiveness.
4) That they will know that their dad is a place of security and peace.
5) That they know they can safely ask their dad anything about anything.
6) That they know that their dad cherishes their mom more than anyone else on the planet.
7) That they will see the joy in life.
8) That they know, even when they are in trouble, that I am never against them.
9) That they know I believe in them.
10)That they know I am genuinely interested in them as people.

I pray that all of those things aren’t just things they see but things that are increasingly true about me, the dad.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture about parenting is Hebrews 11:23,

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

It may seem like an odd passage but I love what it implies. It shows that Moses’ dad and mom had great faith as parents. They believed so much in the possibility of God for their son that they were willing to do anything, even risk their own lives for sake of Moses’ future. I want that kind of faith in God and belief for my kids.

I am a dad. And, I want to be that kind of dad.