If there’s one thing I want my kids to avoid it’s pornography. I pray about this constantly and, if you are a parent, I bet you do too. Here’s a resource video we put together on combating pornography.
One of the best things about the Orange Conference is that it’s a two for one deal. What I mean is that, while I’m here, I feel inspired and empowered to do better student ministry. There’s no way that you can sit through the sessions and breakouts and not be infused with passion, vision and game changing ideas. It’s incredible. This conference and these people make me feel like I could and should lead my student ministry for another 20 years.
The thing that has surprised me is that I almost feel like I’m getting more out of the conference as a parent. The focus of the conference this year is on Phases: “It’s just a phase, so don’t miss it.” I’ve been reminded of the amazing privilege, responsibility and gift it is to be a parent.
I’m convinced that parenting is the hardest thing most of us will ever do. It’s exhausting, perplexing, and seemingly never-ending. But, God has given my wife and me four little humans to love, protect, teach, mentor, and guide. It’s an amazing journey and worth every minute, tear, back ache and dirty diaper. These little ones are made in the image of God and each one of them possesses the incredible potential that comes with that. Could there be any more meaningful role, in life, than to help our children discover their potential as image-bearers of God?
Words are incredibly powerful. As I look back on my life, particular conversations, positive and negative, propelled me toward who I am today–the good parts and the bad. No one has had a more powerful voice in my life than my parents–particularly my dad. If you are a parent, this is a sobering and exhilarating thought. Your words literally shape the future of your child. The words you use help form their identity and self-concept. Like the book of Proverbs says, words carry “the power of life and death.”
Many of us, because of busyness, laziness, or fear, leave unsaid the most important words. We say all the mundane things and the negative things (when I haven’t had enough coffee yet) but we don’t speak the words of blessing. Recently, I was challenged to put these words of blessing in written form for each of my kids. Here’s what I came up with for my firstborn son:
We’ll never forget the day you came into our lives. You were so sweet and little…and we didn’t sleep for 2 years. Despite that, you brought us so much joy. We loved watching your wonder filled face as you explored and discovered the world of our apartment. You have always been inquisitive and full of wonder.
Watching you grow has been amazing. Your faith in Jesus has been growing steadily since you were very little. You care deeply about doing what is right and following Jesus. You want to honor Him with your life. We pray that your faith will continue to grow and that you will continue obeying God. We believe He has a plan for your life and that He wants to use you to do something special.
God has very clearly gifted you with creative talent. You are a budding artist. You notice the details and create amazing pictures and stories. You are great at imagining something and bringing it to life with your Legos or in Minecraft. Not every kid has the ability to draw, design and build like you do. God has given you a gift. Please continue to develop it. Our suspicion is that God has gifted you in these ways because they are part of His plan for your life.
If there’s two things we would wish for your life, the first would be that you’d never lose your sense of wonder. Wonder is what you feel when you realize how big and incredible God is. You feel wonder when you are overwhelmed by how amazing something is that God made—for example, when you stand before a mountain or swim in a vast ocean and think to yourself, “This is so huge! God must be so big and powerful!”
We hope and pray that you would always find God and the world He created for us to be amazing. We hope that who God is and what He has made would always blow your mind—that you would always say, “Wow!” when you think about God. We believe that living with wonder is one of the secrets to strong faith and a happy life.
The second thing we wish for your life is that you would always follow Jesus. Jesus is your creator and Savior. He made you and he loves you. Following Jesus is the path to life. The older you get, the harder it will be to follow Jesus. Other people in your life will stop following Jesus and some kids might even make fun of you because you are a Christian, but our hope is that you would find friends who follow Jesus and help each other.
Jesus is working to restore this world and we believe He wants to use you to do something special to help fix it. As you grow older, we will help you discover what it is that God wants you to do with your life. We commit to teaching you about God, helping you understand the Bible and living our lives for Jesus so that you can watch us and learn how to do it. We know that God has amazing things in store for you. We love you very much Keegan and are so happy and proud to call you our son.
Mom and Dad
My encouragement to you would be to write something like this for your kids. Don’t even wait for a special occasion. Just do it. I don’t think it’s possible to over-bless your kids. As a parent, I don’t want to have any regrets about leaving my love and dreams for my kids unsaid.
Recently, I read “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. It’s a fascinating book about the psychology and sociology behind success. The ideas presented in the book have helped me rethink what is most important in parenting.
As a parent, I’m constantly focused on two things: excellence in the classroom and moral character. If I’m honest, I want “A”s and good, moral behavior. I’m particularly vigilant about honesty. I deeply desire for my kids to grow into adults who speak the truth and easily gain trust with others. What I’m realizing, though, is that moral character is only part of the equation for successful kids.
I grew up in one of those families that is dominated by the family business. We’re a water well drilling family and have been for years. I am a 5th generation water well driller, or at least I was, until I became a student pastor.
Growing up, my father developed in me a strong work ethic. From an early age, I was expected to chip in, work hard and problem solve. I want to see these traits in my kids as well, but I’ve never been able to describe what I want with any sort of clarity until I read “How Children Succeed.” Paul Tough breaks performance character into 7 qualities.
Kids who grow into successful adults tend to look on the bright side. They believe in their future and they are able to set goals and run after them. Put simply, kids who succeed believe they will succeed.
Life is an adventure. Kids who succeed, do so, because they bring energy and zest to the challenges and opportunities before them. Rather than becoming paralyzed with fear of the future, challenges energize successful kids and activate their inner drive.
Success often involves delayed gratification. For example, good grades usually require doing your homework before plopping down in front of the TV. For kids who grow into successful adults, learning self-control is a key ingredient.
I love this word. Grit is that quality that enables a person to push through. It’s when a child initially fails, but picks himself off the ground and powers through to the finish line. People with grit never give up and never quit.
5. Social Intelligence
Kids who grow into successful adults learn how to navigate society. They learn acceptable social behaviors, how to influence others, how to listen and how to engage in teams.
Gratitude is simply thankfulness for the blessings of life. Kids who learn gratitude become adults who are satisfied with what they have been given. They don’t need the next shiny thing and they are capable of staying committed to important relationships.
Curiosity has unleashed every major techological breakthrough in human history. Every significant advancement in human society has been born out of, “What if?” Children who grow into successful adults–adults who change the world for the better, are driven by curiosity. They just have to know, understand, and see what happens.
Obviously, I believe that education is important, but if the basic premise of this book is true, the character we develop in our kids is far more important than what they learn in the classroom. How they go about education and what they do with education, as filtered by their character is what will determine success. I’d almost go as far to say that how we play with our kids is more important than what we formally teach them and surely how we model is definitely more important that what we speak. What are your thoughts?
I have this vivid memory from my childhood. I was at a friend’s house for dinner when suddenly my friend’s dad opened up a old, boring looking, devotional book and began leading the family in a Bible study. It was terrible. I, along with everyone else around the table was bored to tears. The devotional was too old for kids, my friend’s dad was clearly going through the motions, and it was obvious that everyone just wanted to leave the table. And yet, the guy droned on for about 20 minutes. In that moment, I vowed to never bore my kids to tears with Jesus and the Bible. I decided that I would never lead boring family devotions…and then I had my own kids.
Fast forward a few years and now I have four kids of my own. What I want more than anything in the world is for my kids to fall in love with Jesus–for them to understand God’s incredible, amazing, transformational love for them. I desperately want them to understand the Bible, how it works, what it means and how it intersects with their life. My great hope is that they would join their lives with God’s mission in the world and experience life the way it was meant to be lived.
I’m realizing that in order for these dreams to come true, my wife and I have to work very hard. Yes, God is the One who makes faith grow, but I believe we as parents have a role too. The truth is, it takes discipline and persistence to build a worldview, particularly in a culture that’s becoming more and more opposed to a biblical worldview.
To my consternation, I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to grow faith in my kids is family devotions. For years I fought this idea because I don’t want my kids to associate boredom with Jesus, but now I’ve realized that family devotions don’t have to suck. There are, for example, amazing resources available. My two favorite books happen to be by the same author, Sally Lloyd-Jones, who I was privileged to briefly meet at Hutchmoot. You’re probably familiar with the first, The Storybook Bible.
I love this book! The stories and the illustrations are fantastic for little kids. We’ve read this through a few times at bed time with our kids. It’s a great way to build a biblical foundation with your kids at home. The second book is a devotional that we’ve been using at family meals. It’s called, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.
I’ve been very impressed with this book. My kids love it! I think it is more poetic that devotional, but for my family, it functions perfectly as a short devotional following our evening meal. My kids engage with the material in a way that fills me with hope. If you have elementary kids at home, this book might be a great fit.
Let me encourage you, if you are a parent of young children, to take advantage of your time with your kids. It won’t be long before they stop listening to you the way they are right now. Spoiler alert, your kid will become teenagers! Capitalize on your time together by teaching them the Bible in a way that is fun and engages their budding faith. These two books are great resources but let me know if you’ve discovered a resource or a practice that works well in your family.
I’m not an overprotective parent. I don’t make my daughter put her helmet on when she rides bikes in the neighborhood and I’m annoyed that she has to wear a facemask when she plays the infield (a softball to the face will keep you on your toes). I don’t dispute grades with her teacher or mediate arguments with her friends. I’ve even been known to let her eat gluten and red dye #4. For the most part I consider myself a completely normal parent.
However, as my youngest is standing on the edge of entering jr high I’m starting to think that I don’t fall in the normal range anymore. It seems I’m having more and more conversations that go something like this:
Eliza: Can I have Instagram*
Eliza: Whhhhhhy? Every one of my friends has it. Every. Single. One. It’s not fair.
Me: Fair ended in the Garden of Eden
Eliza: *Blank stare*
Of course that’s not true, they don’t all have Instagram. But a lot do, which starts to chip away at my resolve. Then I have to ask myself; am I freaking out….being over protective…depriving her of opportunities to develop discernment? I don’t think so. No, I’m definitely right. Absolutely for sure. I think.
Being the single voice if dissension isn’t easy. You become an island, standing alone while everyone is blissfully moving along with the status quo. Even the most resolute parents can buckle under that sort of pressure. When you’re the lone holdout you start to hear that voice in your head – the voice that says “Are you sure about this? You’re the only one who is being so difficult. You’re going to make her an outcast, you know. She’s going to hate you” It’s hard to stand up against the norm, and it doesn’t get easier as you go along. The fact is that parenting is hard and you volunteered for it. Making unpopular decisions isn’t fun. When your kids are mad at you it stinks. But this isn’t about you, it’s about them, and when you cave in because you feel bad, you’re being selfish.
Ultimately there is a reward for towing the hard line. Your children will become functioning members of society. They won’t buckle when things don’t go their way. They will learn coping skills and will know how to react when life isn’t fair. The reverse is true if you give in every time you get resistance. They will crumble when they come up against adversity, expect you to rescue them, and probably live in your basement for the rest of their lives.
Look, I am fumbling my way through parenthood, just like you are, doing my best to raise my daughter in a world that is new and scary to me. I’m using a biblical grid to walk with her through a culture that fights me almost every step of the way. I’m trying to create a foundation for her that’s grounded on who she is in God’s eyes. That means that sometimes I say no when everyone says yes.
*Note- if you let your child have Instagram I’m not saying you’re a bad parent. We all have to pick our battles and that is one that I chose. I won’t judge you for that and you don’t judge me for wanting my kid to get hit in the face with a softball. Deal?
Guest Blogger: Christina Thelen has been serving in student ministry for over 8 years and has been tenaciously mothering for over 21. When she isn’t volunteering with students she can usually be found planning epic events or posting cat pictures to Facebook.
The other night I had a panic attack. You see, my daughter told me that her best friends are in love. They kissed on the lips at recess and danced. SCANDAL! If you’re wondering, my daughter is in kindergarten….well, she was. Now she’s home-schooled.
Someday, a LONG time from now I’d like for my daughters to fall in love. Maybe. Wait. Never mind. OK, I want them to fall in love but not until they’re like 40. OK, fine. I want them to fall in love but it has to be with someone who is worthy of them. Forget it. No one ever will be.
Sigh. Alright, alright, someday I’ll let my daughters date but these guys had better not hurt them or else I’ll track them down and dispatch them with a flurry of vicious rhetoric.
Hypothetically, if I were to let my daughter date, I’d really only have one requirement. See, I’m not that demanding. It’s just one little thing. He must treasure her. He must treat her like she is the most valuable person in his life. What would this look like practically? I came up with a list:
- It means he puts her first
- It means that he would never hurt her or force her into anything
- It means that he would never yell at her, intimidate her or hit her
- It means that he would never abandon her
- It means that he would see into her heart and love her beyond her body
- It means that he would learn to understand her moods
- It means that he would never love another women except her.
- It means that he would take care of her as they both grow old
- It means that he would treasure her beyond all else in life.
Here’s the problem. I know she is worth it but she doesn’t. In my experience, most girls don’t understand how valuable they are. Our culture convinces girls that their worth is based on how they look and what boys think about them. It scares me to death that my daughters will grow up comparing themselves to the girls on magazine covers. It terrifies me that her self-image might be dependent on what some teenage boy says about her.
So, how do you convince your daughter that she is valuable? How do you convince her that she is worth more than what she looks like? I think it’s a constant battle. It is repeated conversations. She needs to be told over and over again. But, while words are crucial, it’s important to remember that kids learn far more from observing than being told. Fathers teach their daughters what value is all about in the ways that they talk about, and look at women . Girls, even little girls, pick up on the subtlest expressions. Whatever is in your heart, she will pick up on it.
From what I have learned, if I want to convince my daughter that she is worth being treasured, I need to treasure her mother. My daughter is building expectations around her parents’ relationship. She will experience a gravitational pull toward the kind of man I am. I need to compliment my wife and my daughters on more than their looks and clothes. Essentially, I need to treat my wife and my daughter exactly how I want her future boyfriend to treat her. I must treasure them. She will come to expect and desire what she knows and has experienced.
So, dads, we have a monumental task before us. If you want your daughter to successfully navigate the minefield that is our culture, if you want her to end up with a man who loves her like she deserves, you need to treasure your wife and your daughter. She’s smarter than you think. If she is in middle school, she is already more relationally perceptive than you are. You can’t fool her. Love the women in your life authentically. Start now.
Six years ago today, my first little girl emerged into the world. No other experience has transformed me like becoming a dad. A seismic shift occurred in my heart at each delivery room experience. I know there is something spiritual about parenthood because my heart exploded with love each time a slimy, blue tinted alien was handed to me. It’s spiritual because newborns aren’t exactly cute when they first emerge into the world. They are slimy, smell nasty, have misshapen heads, look like they just arrived from an MMA bout, and scream like you just forcibly yanked them out of 9 months of cozy darkness. And yet, each time I laid eyes on my newborn baby I knew I would do anything to provide for and protect this child. I instantly knew that if necessary, I would sacrifice my very life and that I would never, ever, stop loving this little helpless baby.
I believe this natural flood of love is something that God puts in us. It’s because we are a little like him. We are imperfect to be sure, but the love of our heavenly Father is gifted to us when we become parents. Parents are granted a particular blessing because we get to experience a unique expression of God’s heart as we feel the immediate surge of unconditional love that accompanies laying eyes on our children for the first time. I truly believe this is a glimpse into how God feels about me and you.
Let me explain by telling you what I didn’t do when I became a parent. As my little one slept in the hospital nursery, you know that room where they keep all the babies in those plastic little tubs? That special little room that offers you your last full night of sleep for 18 years. I didn’t walk up to that glass wall separating big people from all the babies, survey all the babies and say:
- ”Wow, compared to that baby over there, my baby isn’t cute at all.”
- “I like the nose on that baby more than my baby’s nose.”
- “Man, I wish I had a different baby.”
No way. That would never happen. You don’t compare your baby. You simply love your baby. You treasure that little one because he is yours. You celebrate all the little unique things about your baby.
With ourselves and the people in our lives, we determine value and worth based on comparison.
- “She’s better looking than me.”
- “I’m more productive than he is.”
- “They have a bigger house than us.”
We rank our value by looking around and comparing. But, isn’t it interesting that we don’t do the same thing with our babies? We simply love–purely and unconditionally. It’s like pulling back the curtains on God’s love for me and for you . The flood of love that overwhelms parents during the first few moments of parenthood is a glimpse into God’s heart for us.
What if God loves you and me as fiercely and purely as a new parent? To whom does God compare you? Does God say, “I wish Aaron were more like Jon?” No way. I think God would say, “If only you could see you through My eyes.” What if instead of comparing us to other people, God celebrates our uniqueness? We spend so much energy comparing ourselves to everyone else—wishing we were different We’re always wishing we were more talented, more skinny, more wealthy, more beautiful, more athletic, more smart, more, more, more. If God could get our attention, I think he would say: “Stop comparing. I don’t compare you. Why should you? I made you like this and I like you. If only you could see you through My eyes.”
I don’t know about you, but if I could get my mind and my heart around this reality, I would live differently.
I have a confession. I’m not a big fan of PDA. If I see you at the mall kissing on your significant other I will judge you and throw up a little in my mind. I’m sorry. It might be that I’m significantly Dutch and we’re a reserved kind of folk. Or, maybe I’m just weird or maybe you are for kissing at the mall. Gross. I don’t know, but either way, please don’t get too affectionate around me. We can’t be friends if you do.
I’ve recently discovered that my issues with PDA don’t apply to my kids. What I mean is that every time I give my wife a hug or a kiss my kids make a huge deal about it. “Ahhh! Sick! Daddy kissed Mommy!” They freak out and act like they are throwing up every time. Being affectionate with my wife feels like I’m that weird kid from elementary school who catches frogs and shoves them in your face.
It didn’t take me long to realize that my kids aren’t actually grossed out by affection. The, “Daddy, kiss Mommy again!” was a dead giveaway. I remember reading somewhere that showing affection in front of your kids is good for them. I’ve experienced this firsthand. I get the sense that seeing tangible expressions of their parents’ love brings a sort of steadiness to my kids. Children build their lives upon what they see in their parents and there is something about knowing your parents love each other that makes everything feel right.
The other night, as we were tucking our kids into bed, they began asking questions about when Katie and I met in college. They were curious about the details of who we were back then and they couldn’t really get their minds around the idea that there was a time when we weren’t together.
As it turns out, when we were dating in college, I wrote my then girlfriend Katie a children’s book. It is the story of how we met, fell in love and started dating. Yes, it is terribly cheesy and the illustrations are a disaster, but she loved it and it probably sealed the deal for our then future marriage.
Anyway, my kids were asking so many questions about our early days that my wife dug the book out of her secret box and brought it to the kids. We read a couple chapters and they were enthralled. It was like they were Harry Potter discovering magic. There were a few moments of controversy though. “Wait! Mommy, you had a different boyfriend before Daddy?!?” It was like we opened up a new world that they never knew existed. They nearly went into revolt when the time came to put the book away and go to sleep.
The whole episode taught me something. Kids need concrete examples. They need to know that their parents love each other because it builds a sort of trust and strength in them. I’m learning that being affectionate and telling our story to our kids is very good for them. I guess I’d better get over my Dutchness, but can we all agree to ease up on the PDA? Disgusting.