All posts tagged Parenting

Reflections on a Rite of Passage Trip

If you know me at all, you quickly learn I am a cheesy, tangible, sentimental guy. So as my son prepares to start kindergarten, I decided to plan a trip to commemorate his “rite of passage.” It was one of my best (both in terms of joy and significance) experiences as a parent to date.

Our schedule was fairly simple (though longer than necessary) for the four day, three night trip. Travel and camp by the family pond on day one. Catch a St. Louis Cardinals game on day two. See my alma mater, Union University, and do fun “guy stuff” on day three. Finally, visit the church of my college roommate and travel home on day four.

What follows are reflections (some playful; some serious) from the trip, written just as I have arrived home (pictures available on Facebook).

  • Do this with your kids! I would not trade the last four days for the world. We both arrived home with tears in our eyes.
  • Keep the biblical lessons you want to impart to a couple of key points that fit the child’s upcoming transition. We discussed Luke 2:40 and I Corinthians 10:13 on a couple of occasions for each passage. But don’t count on “before bedtime” as the best time to talk.
  • Prepare a picture album of the child’s life up to that age (thanks Gran). It makes the sense of life transition more real for both of you.
  • For younger kids life skills like pumping gas, ordering at a restaurant, checking into the hotel, or keeping up with the room key make “getting bigger” seem more real to them.
  • If you get the nachos supreme as your pre-game supper, then don’t try exploring the top of the stadium as your 2.5 hour rain delay entertainment tactic.
  • If you are going to do a rugged outdoor portion of the trip, put it in the beginning before you are getting tired and get used to having a continental breakfast.
  • Teach your children unique parts of your story if you can. Taking my son to the place I proposed to Sallie and to see my kindergarten classroom made for several good conversations.
  • Have fun! Fishing, getting an Aussie Cheesefry (he calls us the “high cholesterol boys”), swimming at the hotel pool, rolling pigs (hard to explain), and getting a late night ice cream cone gave the trip life.
  • Pick something selfless for your child to do. Attending my college roommate’s church was not as exciting as the rest of the trip (for my son that is, sorry Lee). But asking my son to take pleasure in my joy as I did in his, and then to see him do that was a special mark of maturity and bonding.
  • Say “I love you” a lot.
  • As a working dad (papa), it is a rare thing to get 96 continuous hours with my children. What I learned in that block of time was unique even as compared to a family vacation.
  • Teach them to tell their story. Both the simple short story (I cannot tell you how many times we talked about him catching a turtle) and their life story (the picture album and travel time were a great time to review life).
  • Don’t forget the purpose of the trip when things get off schedule (types the compulsive schedule keeping papa). Nothing I had hoped to say or do but didn’t detracted from the purpose of spending four days concentrated on enjoying my son and preparing him for the next season of life God has for him.
  • Finally, regardless of time allotment or activity, find a meaningful way to make the life transitions of your children and bond with them during this time. It will do wonders to place all the “grown up stuff” you do in perspective.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.

Wisdom is Content and Experience

I was having a conversation with my 7 year old recently about toys. In my unbiased opinion he was showing a great deal of wisdom and self-control regarding finances and his primary idol. He would ask how much the various objects of his affection cost. We would look up the best available price (on my favorite “toy” – my smart phone) and he would tell me whether he thought it was a good deal.

I was impressed with his ability to gauge the value of toys. He was able to recognize overpriced plastic junk and once its value-to-cost ratio was revealed his affection for it subsided. Having him do chores to pay for extra “I wanna’s” and reading him Dave Ramsey bedtime stories (I’m not making that up) was really paying off. I was proud of him and I told him so.

Later that day he tried to apply his financial wisdom to an area of lesser experience – vehicles. We were driving and he said, “Papa, I know why Mama likes her van so much – it was cheap.” At that point I tried to describe the difference between something being “a good value” and it being “cheap.” He replied, “Yes, and Mama’s van was cheap.”

No matter how I tried to explain that a four year old, low mileage vehicle after a model change was “a good value,” all he could understand was that the van was cheap. When he got outside his sphere of experience he instantly transformed from a very wise 7 year old to an ill-informed car buyer (luckily we’ve got nine more years to work on that one).

Things that are obvious with children are often easy to overlook in adults or ourselves. Having a firm grasp and ability to apply a wise principle in one situation does not make one wise in all situations, or even in all situations of a similar nature (in this case, about finances).

I think, as Christians, we can often miss this. (Non-Christians also have their versions of this.) There can be a tendency to think that a timeless biblical principle is applicable to every situation within its subject matter. With this belief, we confidently make a biblical assertion and can’t hear reasons against it. We wind up sounding like my son talking about buying vehicles.

For example, consider conflict between two people. Many Christians will automatically say you should “take the log out of your eye before you take the speck of out the other person’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).” This is a wise and good biblical principle that applies to conflict.

But Scripture also says that “it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11, similar to Matt 7:1-2),” calls us to cease engaging with those who are unwilling to healthily engage in conflict (Matt 7:6 and Prov 26:4), and instructs us to admonish those who are in sin (Col 3:16). Similar examples could be given to various sins, forms of suffering, and relational dynamics.

What is needed to rightly apply these various biblical principles that apply to conflict? The ability to assess which directive best fits a given conflict; which comes through experience. Newlywed couples spend their first months and years trying to figure out how significant their differences are so they know with biblical principles to apply. Those in unhealthy friendships get caught trying to discern which of these applies.

What we see from this is that the sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation, but not the exclusive criteria, for the competency of the counselor. There are also the ability to assess the most relevant variables in a situation and the severity of a given struggle in order to apply the relevant portions of God’s Word.

This does not diminish the relevance or power of God’s Word, but it does highlight one of the key variables involved in “rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).” It reveals the necessity of being able accurately understand/assess/interpret a person and situation as well as you can a biblical text.

As we counsel (offer hope and direction) from the Bible, let us be sure to assess how well we understand the person and situation to be sure that our application of Scripture is wise and doesn’t cause us to sound wise in circumstances we know well and like my 7 year old discussing vehicles in areas we lack experience.

What Belongs in Love?

What is love? Am I really in love? I love you, but I’m not sure I like you right now. Looking for love in all the wrong places. Agape. Phileo. There are many things we say and ask about love. Hopefully this post does not muddy already murky water.

I frequently have conversations with people whose definition of love is about to exhaust them (physically, emotionally, or financially), but they feel incredibly guilty if they “love less.” How could that be loving, Christ-like, or God-honoring?

Unless we answer this question many of us will become burned out and/or bitter by trying to do what we believe God calls us to do.

Let’s start with an image. Picture love as a basket and begin listing the actions, motives, and dispositions that belong in the basket. Service. Protection. Sacrifice. Joy. Pleasure. Forgiveness. Benefit of the doubt. Etc…

If we are not careful, we will end up saying that “love is everything.” But as with any word, when it means everything; it means nothing. Even the fact that love could require almost anything (moral) should not push us to say that “love is everything.”

So, how do we begin to take things out of the basket? We can start by recognizing that we are finite lovers. That means that my ability to love is limited by a 168 hour week. Nothing that requires more than the time I have to give can be placed in the basket. I also have a limited financial budget over which God has placed certain instructions (i.e., tithing, saving, avoiding debt). Nothing that love requires should cause me to live outside those instructions.

This begins to change the questions. Before, we might ask, how could I be loving and not do [blank] for my spouse? Or, how could I be loving and not give [blank] to my kids? I would have wanted those things, and I am called to love them as myself. They would be in a better position for life if given this opportunity.

These questions are rooted in guilt, because they are rooted in the assumption of an infinite resource. They could be applied to any good thing and with a little emotional tug result in everything going in the love basket.

The new question becomes, what is the best way(s) to love [name] with the blessings God has placed in my life? This recognizes that God blessed me in order that I might be a blessing (Gen 12:2). It also recognizes that to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). So love is challenged to be sacrificial.

However, it also recognizes that there are limits to what we can put in love. The widow could only put in two copper coins (Luke 21:2). When we try to put more into love than God has given us to give, this is one way to define what is often called codependency.

When parents buy things for a child they cannot afford in the name of “sacrifice.” When a friend “protects” another from the consequences or revelation of substance abuse. When a spouse “forgives” physical abuse without contacting legal authorities or demanding counseling. In these cases, sacrifice, protection, and forgiveness do not belong in the basket of love (at least as defined in these examples).

But as long as we define love as everything nice, we will feel guilty when we “love less” by taking things out of the basket of love that were never ours to put in the basket.

Made of Better Stuff?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Somebody once asked me: ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of – the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be it if goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better or worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all (p. 49).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What do we want for our children? What would be the best thing we could ask God to grant our children? If we are honest, I think most of us (myself included), would pray that our children would do great things. Personally, I look for special moments to whisper in the ears of my boys, “I believe and pray this world will be a better place because of the life you live on it.”

After reading Lewis’ quote, I am convicted to pray differently. Now my prayers would sound something like, “Lord, grant my boys the humility to contain whatever ‘good works’ You have ordained for them to accomplish.” I realize I was inadvertently praying for a temptation without praying for the accompanying protection.

That is not to say that I think God would curse my boys for my imbalanced prayers. But my prayers (even for others) change me. When I bring things before the Father as “worthy of His attention” I am shaped to treasure those things. When I prayed for my boys to change the world without spending equal time praying for their character, I was reinforcing the distortions of my own heart.

Lewis’ quote on “better stuff” makes more sense of Jesus’ teaching/warning:

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

Greatness must be protected from itself if it is to remain good. Power is ultimately remembered more for its impact than its magnitude. The most powerful figures in human history are rarely remembered fondly. Their character could not contain their influence.

Service (and its embedded virtue of humility) is the protection of greatness. It is one of the few cases where the wrapper should be valued more than the object. Greatness outside the wrapper of humility always mutates into evil.

May we pray regularly (for ourselves and our children), in light of the “better stuff” from which we are made, that God would grant us the humility to carry greatness (His image and the message of salvation) with integrity all of our days. Let us pray that we would pray for the wrapper with complete faith that when we have humility that God will grant all we need to accomplish all He intends (James 4:6).

Generational Sin: Destiny or Context?

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor JD’s sermon “Consequences: 2 Samuel 12-16” preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday February 5-6, 2011.

When we see and hear how the sin of David affected his son Absalom many of us may begin to experience fear. This fear is compounded if we consider God’s words in the second of the Ten Commandments.

“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:5-6).”

The gracious disproportion of numbers is not much comfort if you are in one of the first three generations. So we have to ask, “What is this verse talking about?” Some would say it means that God punishes children for the sins of their parents. God has heard His people ask this question before and answered it in Ezekiel 18:19-21.

“Yet you say, ‘Why should the son suffer for the iniquity of the father? When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But IF a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die (capitalization added).’”

The question we are asking pivots on, “What makes the ‘if’ so hard?” We are all wicked in the sense that we are born in sin and righteousness is unnatural. So the link between Exodus 20 and Ezekiel 18 seems to be that it is harder for someone to turn from sin when their family of origin rejects God.

One reason for this is that following God is unnatural. Proverbs 22:15a describes all our beginnings; “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” There is a natural consequence to absence of godly parenting – we go in the way that seems right to us which ends in death (Prov. 14:12, 16:25).

But there seems to be more to it than natural consequences in Exodus 20. I would describe it as a “life context with momentum.” There is more than the absence of good; there is the presence of bad. A child learns a lifestyle, collects hurts, gathers fears, and takes on goals. This is the child’s life context for years, even decades.

Like braces on teeth, this molds the child, even if the child can tell the context is wrong and doesn’t want to continue it. The child only knows what not to do. In avoiding the evil they know, there are many more dysfunctions to fall into. After all there is only “one way” that leads to life (John 14:6) and many ways that seem good that lead to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).

I believe this gives us insight into another passage that speaks of influences beyond our immediate life and choice – Ephesians 6:10-20 on spiritual warfare. It is interesting that the only active steps we are called to in spiritual warfare are to “put on the armor (v. 11, 13)” and “stand firm (v. 13).”

In light of this discussion, I would say this means:

  1. Study the Bible diligently to “put on the armor of God”: to learn God’s truth, gain a vision for God’s righteousness, embrace and live in the gospel of peace, by faith resist the lies of your upbringing, trust in God’s salvation, and ask the Spirit to penetrate these things into your heart.
  2. Understand the context of your family of origin. Examine what you learned inaccurately from them—what things they taught you to be good, valuable or desirable that are not. What things did they model to be scarce or withhold that are plentiful in Christ? Know these influences “with momentum” so that you can “stand firm” in God’s armor when they push you towards destruction.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Counseling Theory” post which address other facets of this subject.

#ManTrip5: A Lone Star Father-Son Adventure

One of the things I have found most satisfying as a parent is setting aside time each year for a memorable trip with my two sons. In previous posts I have discussed

(1)   the kindergarten right of passage trip I took with my first son,
(2)   a trip we took when he was especially discouraged at school,
(3)   the kindergarten right of passage with my youngest son, and
(4)   the first before-school-starts joint trip we took as this tradition took on life.

In this post I want to reflect on our latest special trip (last week), now known as “Man Trips.”

Note: I realized language was becoming more important when I slipped and called a donut trip a “daddy date” and was corrected by my son. Now we exclusively call these “donut adventures” and the naming of other outings follow suit.

As we drove on the first night of our trip I asked the boys if they knew why we took these trips. They could quickly give me three of the four reasons we do these.

  1. You love to spend time with us.” It was good to hear them say this first and without hesitation.
  2. You want to instill a sense of adventure so we won’t be afraid of new things.” We talk about this frequently as we brainstorm potential trips. I do not want my boys to back away from anything God would call them to do because of fear. They enjoy thinking up possibilities. Right now deep sea fishing is the leading candidate for our next trip.
  3. You want our family to be an example of others.” If I am going to encourage them to be more of an influence on their friends than their friends are on them, then I think it important for them to know the things that I am doing to serve as a positive influence in my relationships.[1]
  4. You want to set the tone for each new stage of our life” (the one they, understandably, couldn’t verbalize). At this point, they know I plan to take an individual trip with each of them before they start kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college; and take trips with the three of us on the other years. Beyond that I’m not sure they understand “stages or seasons of life.”

This was encouraging to me. They didn’t just know our itinerary of fun; they knew why we had set aside this time. They even gave the answers in the order I would want them to weigh them.

My strategy for these trips has remained pretty consistent:

  • Have enough fun that the boys will always remember the trip and don’t realize I’m trying to shape their character.
  • Do at least one thing that they find moderately frightening (so far: camp in the woods, climb a mountain, ride down a waterfall, and – this time – fly on a plane).
  • Have a couple of key lessons to instill which we talk about at key points on the trip

This time the key lessons revolved around the theme of “life as quest: an introduction to God’s will for elementary school age kids.” We unpacked this in three conversations:

(1)   Reviewing what the gospel is and what they need to do with it.

A. Understand the key truths of the gospel summarized in the phrase “Jesus in my place.”
B. Believe the gospel as being necessary for them personally.
C. Publicly live out the gospel beginning with baptism.

(2)   Study Ephesians 2:1-10 to tie the first and third conversation together.

A. We discussed verses 1 through 9 to recap the conversation from the night before.
B. Then, after a little explanation of verse 10, I asked them to think about how they would discover what God created them to do as a teaser for the next night’s discussion.

(3)   Discussing what they can do to discover God’s will at their age.

A. Be willing to try new things to find out what they’re passionate about and good at.
B. Expect that God will use them to change the world around them.
C. Guard their character as what is most important in any situation.
D. Make sure their closest, trusted friends are people who seek to honor God.

Right now I believe both of my boys understand the gospel (1A). They’ve both told me about conversations they’ve had with friends at school about the gospel and were pretty clear in how they described it.

But my youngest does not yet sense the weight of his need for the gospel to fully grasp why believing the gospel is vital, rather than merely “a good thing good boys do” (1B). And my oldest son is wrestling with the idea of publicly displaying his faith through baptism (1C). In our conversations I wanted to gauge again where they were and help orient them to what the “next step” would be for them individually.

Here are a few of my other reflections on this trip. I won’t rewrite things that I mentioned in previous posts about these trips (you can read those in the links above; I review those posts before each trip).

  • By the term “Man trip” I am not capitulating to a particular stereotype of masculinity. Even with the theme of adventure, I am more seeking to eliminate fear-motivated passivity than force them into the mold of a medieval knight. My goal is that when my boys wonder, “What does it mean to be a man?” and “Am I a man?” I, as their father, will be the primary voice that comes to mind and their friends daring them into juvenile or dangerous activities that often are counterfeit entryways into manhood will not.
  • I could tell these trips were beginning to affect the identity of my boys because they wanted to recreate scenes from previous trips; seemingly little things like getting a ball uniform for their stuffed animals or getting Outback cheese-fries and taking them back to our room on the last night. The strong desire to repeat these events indicated they were memories that were taking root and becoming part of their story.
  • My youngest went from being afraid to fly (i.e., for a few months I was afraid his aversion to flying would ruin the trip) to saying he wanted to fly over the ocean. I’m not predicting he will be a missionary, but at least he’s looking for a reason to go overseas.
  • Each “man trip” gives my wife a stay-cation. After keeping up with the boys all-day, everyday for the better part of a week I have a renewed appreciation for how valuable that would be. Giving her this time to rest and be off-duty is a valuable part of this investment for me.
  • The value of several days of uninterrupted time with my boys cannot be over-stated. Being a father who works full time it is so easy to become an event-oriented father. Even when it’s not coaching their sports teams, the increments I am available (i.e., couple of hours in the afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon) can begin to feel very event-ish. There is just a different style of relating with uninterrupted time.
  • I do minimal reading on these trips, because there is little time. I did read a few chapters of Live Like a Narnian by Joe Rigney on the plane. I would heartily recommend the book and anticipate as my boys reach a middle school reading level we’ll go through this together; drawing upon our years of listening to Narnia at bed time and identify some of the gospel lessons in the characters Lewis developed in the Chronicles.
  • I think reading in from of my boys is important but it is something I seldom do. I’ve heard it said, “If you want to teach your children to love to read the Bible, first you have to teach them to learn to love to read.” I believe there is merit in this statement. Having them see me read a “non-nerd” book with the emblem of a red lion on the cover (something that would interest them) I hope is a step in that direction.

The itinerary for this trip was a little more robust than most (if you care to see picture, click here). My missions travel and the boys visiting grandparents meant that #ManTrip5 became our summer family vacation. Whether long or short, this is a tradition I would strongly encourage every father to pursue in some form. The boys and I come home from every one of them thinking about what we’ll do on the next one.

 

[1] If they began to feel pressured to live up to a certain standard because of this purpose, then I would not verbalize it. But at this season, from what I can tell, they appreciate that we intentionally do things together that they realize their friends would want their fathers to with them. This objective is seen as a “perk” of living intentionally; not a burden to have to carry.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.

Wisdom is Content and Experience

I was having a conversation with my 7 year old recently about toys. In my unbiased opinion he was showing a great deal of wisdom and self-control regarding finances and his primary idol. He would ask how much the various objects of his affection cost. We would look up the best available price (on my favorite “toy” – my smart phone) and he would tell me whether he thought it was a good deal.

I was impressed with his ability to gauge the value of toys. He was able to recognize overpriced plastic junk and once its value-to-cost ratio was revealed his affection for it subsided. Having him do chores to pay for extra “I wanna’s” and reading him Dave Ramsey bedtime stories (I’m not making that up) was really paying off. I was proud of him and I told him so.

Later that day he tried to apply his financial wisdom to an area of lesser experience – vehicles. We were driving and he said, “Papa, I know why Mama likes her van so much – it was cheap.” At that point I tried to describe the difference between something being “a good value” and it being “cheap.” He replied, “Yes, and Mama’s van was cheap.”

No matter how I tried to explain that a four year old, low mileage vehicle after a model change was “a good value,” all he could understand was that the van was cheap. When he got outside his sphere of experience he instantly transformed from a very wise 7 year old to an ill-informed car buyer (luckily we’ve got nine more years to work on that one).

Things that are obvious with children are often easy to overlook in adults or ourselves. Having a firm grasp and ability to apply a wise principle in one situation does not make one wise in all situations, or even in all situations of a similar nature (in this case, about finances).

I think, as Christians, we can often miss this. (Non-Christians also have their versions of this.) There can be a tendency to think that a timeless biblical principle is applicable to every situation within its subject matter. With this belief, we confidently make a biblical assertion and can’t hear reasons against it. We wind up sounding like my son talking about buying vehicles.

For example, consider conflict between two people. Many Christians will automatically say you should “take the log out of your eye before you take the speck of out the other person’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).” This is a wise and good biblical principle that applies to conflict.

But Scripture also says that “it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11, similar to Matt 7:1-2),” calls us to cease engaging with those who are unwilling to healthily engage in conflict (Matt 7:6 and Prov 26:4), and instructs us to admonish those who are in sin (Col 3:16). Similar examples could be given to various sins, forms of suffering, and relational dynamics.

What is needed to rightly apply these various biblical principles that apply to conflict? The ability to assess which directive best fits a given conflict; which comes through experience. Newlywed couples spend their first months and years trying to figure out how significant their differences are so they know with biblical principles to apply. Those in unhealthy friendships get caught trying to discern which of these applies.

What we see from this is that the sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation, but not the exclusive criteria, for the competency of the counselor. There are also the ability to assess the most relevant variables in a situation and the severity of a given struggle in order to apply the relevant portions of God’s Word.

This does not diminish the relevance or power of God’s Word, but it does highlight one of the key variables involved in “rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).” It reveals the necessity of being able accurately understand/assess/interpret a person and situation as well as you can a biblical text.

As we counsel (offer hope and direction) from the Bible, let us be sure to assess how well we understand the person and situation to be sure that our application of Scripture is wise and doesn’t cause us to sound wise in circumstances we know well and like my 7 year old discussing vehicles in areas we lack experience.

Special Trip IV: Keeping Rules and Relationship Balanced

One of the things I have found most satisfying as a parent is defining special occasions and major lessons with a memorable trip. In previous posts I have discussed (1) the kindergarten right of passage trip I took with my first son, (2) a trip we took when he was especially discouraged at school, and (3) the kindergarten right of passage with my youngest son.

This post is about our fourth “special trip” – this is now a technical term in our family referring to a trip I take with one or both of our boys to mark a special occasion or teach a particular lesson.

Our recent trip was unique in that it was not a “right of passage” trip for one son or triggered by a difficult life circumstance. Based upon the incredible memories we created on the earlier trips (see concluding note), it was a trip we wanted to take together.

On this trip I had two primary objectives:

  1. As a father who is firm in discipline and structure of our home, I wanted to ensure there was a balance in rules and relationship in my parenting. I believe in the adage “rules without relationship equal rebellion.” The opposite is also true, but I don’t fear that imbalance in myself (at least until I become a grandparent).
  2. Create an opportunity to speak to a key area of growth in each son during a positive, memorable occasion. In this case, the issue was the role of speech in the character of a young man. The main passage we talked about on a couple of occasions was James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body.”
    • My rising third grader is in a stage of cognitive development where his critical thinking skills and problem solving skills are emerging. The result is offering a better solution to a large percentage of things adults ask of him – non-malicious backtalk.
    • My rising first grader, who idolizes his big brother, can be a bit loose with the truth when it means appearing bigger or doing an unpleasant task – lying.
    • I wanted to describe these patterns in a setting where it was beyond doubt that I was “for them” and offer a challenge be alert to and grow in those areas.

As for the itinerary of the trip we had a few planned activities: go to Sliding Rock in the mountains of North Carolina to coast down a waterfall, go to Six Flags because my oldest loves roller coasters, and go to the Georgia Aquarium because my youngest wanted to take his brother to what he saw the year before. We found a few other adventures along the way (pictures here).

Here are my thoughts on the trip.

  • Traditions are starting to form which add to the anticipation and nostalgia of these trips – things as simple as starting with a McDonald’s cinnamelt breakfast and ending with an Applebee’s two-for-twenty dinner to review the trip.
  • I like having at least one item on the trip that stretches their sense of adventure. In this case it was riding the waterfall ($1 per person) and then we spontaneously added rock climbing at the Bass Pro Shop ($3 per person). I want my boys to have a sense that they can do anything and have fun doing it.
  • Working in assertive life lessons is something that these trips offer the opportunity to teach – pumping gas, checking into a hotel, or ordering at a restaurant.
  • Having 72 uninterrupted hours to hear my boys chatter and play, while getting to be a part of it all, was a blessing when most often I get a couple of hours at the end of the day.
  • Finding an unexpected waterfall and spending an hour trying to catch tiny brim with our bare hands was a great memory. Leaving room for these unplanned moments adds to the sense that these trips are an adventure.
  • Sliding Rock was a complete bomb – too cold for my boys to enjoy. I had to be okay with that. The waterfall more than made up for it.
  • Six Flags faced a similar challenge. In the middle of the day when it was hot and lines were long, the boys were down on the experience. It was tempting to scold them about how special this time was and how grateful they should be. But I managed to keep them going. About 3pm the lines shortened and we found our favorite coaster (the Ninja). After that I couldn’t get them to leave the park until 8pm.
  • Waiting until the week before to book the hotel at kayak.com allowed us to get a great rate on a four star hotel; almost at a two star price (the commercials didn’t lie on this one and my boys were impressed).
  • Getting to see the excitement and pride on my 6 year old’s face when he rode a roller coaster with his eyes open for the first time was priceless. He was beaming and couldn’t stop asking, “Can we do it again?” I want to share as many of those moments as I can.
  • Meals are a great time to review what has happened on the trip to build the sense of story that develops. This builds the sense that we’re doing something special.
  • The travel legs of the trip can be important for younger kids to catch a nap if activities push you past their bedtime.
  • Both times we did our Bible study we reviewed the same passage and these ideas. It was great that at the end of the trip both boys could articulate where they needed to grow and talk about it without a sense of discouragement or shame.
  • Walking through downtown Atlanta, from the hotel to the aquarium, we saw several homeless people and spoke to one man. This was an opportunity to talk to my boys about suffering, choices, and generosity.
  • While in Atlanta the boys commented many times on the size of the city. This allowed us to talk about how important cities are in the advancement of the gospel; planting a little missions-DNA into their thinking process.
  • We got to read a map and navigate streets of a major city as we looked for our Dunkin Donuts for breakfast; another adventure and instructional moment for young boys.
  • Having our “big meal” at the end to review the trip was great. It slowed us down for conversation as we waited for our meal and then dessert. It was another opportunity to solidify the stories of the trip in their memory and remind them why we took the trip.

Note from Previous Trips: My mom took the pictures from our two right of passage trips and made children books for each boy using shutterfly.com. This is a book both boys love to get out each time we have company over. It is incredible to hear the amount of detail they can remember (i.e., events, conversations, etc…) and how excited they get to tell the story of the “special trips.”

These are a great keepsake and a way to get the boys to review these trips in their minds many times. Reviewing these books and seeing others get excited about our adventures build the sense that these will be memorable times. I build a sense of excitement in them and me for Special Trip V (stay tuned).

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.

Hambrick Family Christmas Letter 2012

Dear Friends,

Seems like I was just writing the 2011 version of this letter. But while the time has passed quickly, much has happened to update our friends and family about.  This was our first full year settled in our new house. After not decorating for Christmas in 2010 because of our holiday move, the boys responded to our Christmas decorations like they’d never seen them. It was almost enough to make me look forward to all of the work of putting them out this year #bahumbug.

Marshall has started kindergarten and absolutely loves it. Our formerly “silent child” chatters up a storm and is excited about getting to do homework every night. I thought that would have wore off by now, but I’m not complaining. We took a “right of passage” trip in August to make starting school feel more special (story and pictures at link). By his request we climbed a mountain and then walked under the ocean.

Lawson is growing in his love for sports and adventure. We went to Disney this summer and he caught the roller coaster bug. I think we will be taking several trips to amusement parks in the coming years. Our coach-pitch baseball team this Fall was a perfect 9-0, and Lawson is already talking about the Spring season. To help the boys bond with our new city, we’ve started an expedition of visiting all the chili cheese dogs joints in RDU (story and pictures at link).

Sallie couldn’t stand having free time with Marshall in school so she has started substitute teaching at the boys school, created a small “design on a dime” decorating business, and launched a small group for single young professional women at our church. She has painted every room in our home since we moved in last June (badly needed since it was a highly distressed seller house).

Brad has had no problem staying busy between his role at Summit (www.summitrdu.com) and Southeastern (www.sebts.edu). His first two booklets were published this year and he has three more publications coming out this year (www.bradhambrick.com/publications) including being a featured counselor in the new DivorceCare product line. Brad is creating a series of marriage seminars for our church “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage” (posted at link).

Over the next year we would appreciate your prayers that we will (1) fully enjoy this sweet season when our boys are young and lay a good foundation for their future, (2) prioritize marriage and family during a very busy season of life and ministry, and (3) grow in our trust in God’s character and effectiveness at sharing His hope with others.

We want to thank you for your friendship and the unique role you have played in the life our family. Our prayer is that this Christmas you will experience the power, peace, and joy of Immanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23) – and have opportunity to multiply the experience of that hope by sharing it with others.

Merry Christmas!
The Hambrick Family

P.S. For an idea of how to teach your children the real meaning of Christmas, check out this article.

Why We Do “Chili Cheese Dog Adventures”

We moved to Raleigh-Durham in January of 2011. Two years prior we had moved from one side of Augusta, GA to the other (we weren’t expecting to relocate from our ministry position there). The result would be that my then seven and four year old boys would live in four homes and two cities in the course of three years.

Other than our outdoor-loving child being depressed by a cramped apartment in winter, the boys adapted well. Their school performance remained constant, there were not significant regressions in their developmental markers, and they continued to bond decently well with friends.

But I noticed that they talked about moving frequently. Their expectation was that we would move annually. That was now normal to them. They daydreamed about where they wanted to live next and why. They compared what they knew (Georgia) with what they didn’t know (North Carolina).

As parents, my wife and I realized that we needed to help our boys plant roots in Raleigh-Durham. As far as we can know, God’s will is that this will be “home” for them. But their life experience didn’t confirm this reality. We believed this was an important part of their discipleship because it was an important part of their sense of identity – where are you from?

The problem was its hard to do a Bible study at an early-elementary level on a “theology of place” as it relates to your personal identity. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I want to tackle that subject at the graduate level.

But living missionally is largely contingent upon having a sense of belonging to the place that you live. I don’t know many effective missionaries or pastors who do not have a deep sense of belonging to the place they live.

So what did we do? We brainstormed a way to help our boys bond with our city. What was our answer? Chili cheese dog adventures. My oldest son loves them and my youngest son idolizes his brother. So we pitched the idea and they loved it.

From there it was simple. We did an on-line search for all the hotdog joints in RDU. Now whenever we have a free afternoon, we hit one (pictures available on Facebook). Now my boys frequently ask, “Papa, when can we go on another chili cheese dog adventure?” It makes for great conversations.

My hope for these adventures would be:

  1. My boys bond with our city and begin to feel at home in a new place.
  2. My relationship with my boys is strengthened as we have another set of memories together.
  3. My boys will have a positive experience of their family following God’s lead.

What is the take away from this blog? It’s not that every father should take his children on a highly unhealthy food adventure. The point is that discipleship is rooted in relationship. In this case, my boys were beginning to see every relationship except our core family as transient. We could also hear hints of the belief that following God creates more loss than gain.

In this case, I believe the best way to disciple my boys was with something like our “Chili Cheese Dog Adventures.” They weren’t having an intellectual struggle. They were having an emotional-relational struggle. Until I helped them bond with this city, little that I shared about following God’s lead to RDU would impact them in a positive way.

So the take away questions would be – What are the challenges that your children are facing? What are the best ways to set up the truths they need to learn about who God is and how they should live to glorify Him? Be creative and remember that discipleship is rooted in relationship, so develop your relationship with them in a way that prepares the way for your discipleship efforts.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.