Back to Balance

Back to school is upon us. If your family is anything like ours, this time of year is a mix of relief because the kids have something to do and frustration because of the little unexpected extras a new school year brings. New fees, meetings with teachers, and practice schedules can play havoc with the family calendar. How do you find balance between school, work schedules (if your kids are older), extracurricular activities, and church, let alone time with family? It can be incredibly overwhelming!

Typically, the two things that suffer the most are time with family and church. Finding balance can be so difficult! If we aren’t intentional with our time, we find ourselves quickly becoming enslaved by the calendar. Waiting to get settled into a routine doesn’t work because routines tend to change so quickly. Before we realize it, the holiday season approaches and we are asking ourselves where the time has gone.

When we get caught living for tomorrow, today passes by quickly. We miss the moments where relationship could be built because the schedule demands we live life in fast forward, speeding from one event to the next. The modern family rarely eats a meal together that isn’t from a sack. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out while screaming, “No, I don’t want an apple pie with that! I want time to get to know my family better. You got any of that?”

Relax! Take a deep breath and let go of the clown’s throat. You can get through this school year with your family intact. All it takes is a little discipline and some planning! The hardest part is sticking to the plan when we so desperately want to hit the easy button.

Intentionality is crucial for a family in the hectic pace of society. Make a point of sitting at the table and eating a meal together, apart from electronic distractions. Take a few minutes to talk about their dreams and hopes. It doesn’t have to be an hour to make an impact. Fifteen minutes each day can build a solid relationship between parent and child. Make the moments you have each day count.

Planning out your mealtimes helps but you have to avoid the temptation to take the easy way out. Try a weekly menu and make it fun! Go for a walk together as a family. Once you establish a habit it’s so much easier to maintain. So make a plan and stick with it. Yes, it is hard, but remember what David said. “I will give the Lord nothing which costs me nothing.”

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The Touch of a Father: Connecting with Your Teenage Daughter

f you are the father of a teenage girl, you have been entrusted with a great responsibility. It can be daunting. It’s not unusual to feel inadequate for the task. You may feel you have nothing to offer your little girl turned young woman.

In a dad’s eyes, she will always be a little girl. The idea that she will grow and become a young women is incomprehensible. We hold on to that image of our daughter in a beautiful new dress twirling for daddy’s approval. Our opinion mattered. We hugged and wrestled with her, building a relationship that engendered trust and a feeling of safety.

Then something happens beyond our control. Adolescence brings changes to our little girl that make sustaining the relationship downright awkward. She is becoming a young woman both inside and out. We don’t know exactly how to touch them without making them uncomfortable. Often, we withdraw at this formative time in a young woman’s life and defer to their mother’s wisdom. After all, she has an understanding of what our little girl is going through that, as a father, we can’t match.

We wonder why so many young Christian women find themselves in failing relationships. They know God’s plan for marriage and raising a family but they find themselves in compromising situations. These often lead to teenage pregnancy, increased school attrition rate, and a higher prevalence of depression.

There is a connection between a father’s feeling of inadequacy and a teenage daughter’s need to find love and acceptance. They need the touch of a father. The safety they became accustomed to is vital at this stage. Dads assume they know this is still there for them, but daughters often assume it is no longer available because Dad has withdraw.

In the space of a few months to a year, we go from wrestling and hugging each other with abandon to uncomfortable side hugs and strained communication. She questions what has changed and even looks at her body as unacceptable in her father’s eyes. She looks for acceptance else where and often finds it.

Fathers have to take the lead in this situation. Her opinion of self is based highly on her perception of your approval. Her ability to trust, love, and set strong, healthy relationship patterns is based on her relationship with you. It’s equally awkward to your daughter and she may reject you for a time, but pursue her. Show her she is worth fighting for. Make a point to hug her each day. Write her a note each week. Take her on a date monthly. It will establish a foundation for the love of her heavenly Father to grow and take her to places she wouldn’t dare dream. All from the touch of a loving father.

Selfless Service

Remember full service gas stations? When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, they had begun to disappear. Those that were still operating had lost a great deal of the romantic novelty of the 50’s and 60’s versions where a crew of uniformed attendants would swarm over your automobile performing basic service like checking tire pressure and fluid levels while filling your gas tank. Instead a single person, typically a man in some sort of coveralls with their name stitched on their left chest pocket, would come out of the station, smoking a cigarette, and ask, “Regular or unleaded?” Then they would place the appropriate nozzle in the gas fill, and while wiping their hands on a faded red rag, they would indifferently ask, “How much you want?”

Chances are you won’t find that kind of service anymore unless you’re out in the more rural areas of our country. The desire to serve has been replaced by a mindset that gives just enough to keep us coming back because of a need that can’t be met anywhere else. Most of us would drive halfway across town at the thought we might save a couple of cents on a gallon of gas oblivious to the fact that we nullified our savings by driving there in the first place. It placates some part of us that wants as much as we can get for as little effort as possible.

For the vast majority of people today, that mindset is the way of life. Gone are the days when people would drive across town to help a friend in need simply because their friend needed a hand. Chances are if it doesn’t benefit the individual doing the giving in some way, they probably won’t give at all. When someone offers us something purely out of a desire to serve someone, we look at them and think, What’s the catch? We secretly keep score and dread the idea of accepting something from someone else out of a self-imposed obligation to the person who gave selflessly. How ridiculous is that?

I long for the days when people would go out of their way to do something for someone simply because they wanted to be bless that person. Selflessly sacrificing their time and energy to show love to someone in need is a prescription our society needs administered, stat! Our motivation for serving others is revealed when we hold what we’ve done over the heads of those we’ve helped. If we could simply take hold of the ideals set by this verse found in the book of John, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

A noble thought, right? But it’s about so much more than a willingness to die for your friend. The very notion of “lay down one’s life” speaks to the idea of placing the needs of others before self, or serving with no thought of gain. Another verse comes to mind, “The greatest among you must be a servant.”

In the book Three Feet from Gold, the author sought audience with the most successful people in our nations to ask them what lead to their achievement. He was astonished to find that those at the top had an attitude of service for those they encountered daily. In nearly every exchange, he was greeted with the question, “How may I serve you?” It brings to mind another bit of wisdom, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

But the term servant has such a negative connotation in society. We would prefer to be served. We deserve it. We’ve worked hard for what we have and want to enjoy it. What if, hypothetically, the next time your server came to your table you stood, offered them your chair, and proceeded to give them a glass of water? Ridiculous? How much better would the world be if we all sought out opportunities to serve rather than judging the poor service of those around us? After all, it’s better to give than to receive. And better still to give motivated by love without expectation of return, simply because you care and you can.

Storyteller vs. Life-changer

My dad always used to tell me these fantastically funny stories about life when he was a kid. Some were confusing to a young man in that awkward stage between child and young adult. Stories about how much harder he had it as a kid would make me smile. He would tell me about walking great distances to go to school or how he would brave the winter snow in subfreezing temps while lightly clothed so he wouldn’t get his clothes wet. He even shared with me that, often, his walks required him to go uphill both ways!

Now, I would never question my father’s integrity, but I think he occasionally stretched the truth in order to get his point across. Not to say he would exaggerate, but I recall some tales of fishing trips that seemed slightly embellished. I even remember him sharing many times that my first successful hunt had him completely confused! He couldn’t understand why the deer had chosen to run into my arrow.

My dad’s stories impacted me greatly as I was growing up and they have helped to make me into the man I am now. Through his picking, my dad would exhibit his pride in what I had accomplished. My grandfather was very similar. I come from a long line of storytellers who excelled in the art of “picking.”

Some of my favorite memories of times spent with them include a wry little grin as some great tale, slightly embellished, was retold for the tenth or the hundredth time. Those stories never grow old, though, with time, they have grown. Fish get larger, the size of the deer missed and ease of the shot are exaggerated while the tales of our successes become more comical each time told.

I don’t know if my dad or my grandfather understood the profound impact their storytelling had on my life, but it changed me in ways I only recently have come to realize. It set me on a course I never anticipated but am so thankful to be on. Those stories have changed my life and given me a hope that I too will be able change the lives of those around me through the stories we share!

I don’t want to be remembered as a storyteller, I want my story to inspire people to change the lives of those around them. As I look at the lives of my father and grandfather, that’s what I see, two men who loved to tell a story, but did so to change the lives of those listening. They shared their experiences, slightly embellished, all the while hoping to inspire you to go further than you thought possible. My grandfather wasn’t and my father isn’t just about the story. Both did all they could to change the lives of those around them by giving of themselves every day. That behavior changed me, it inspired me to write a story with my life that would be worth sharing.

Each of us has a story to tell. You are writing it now, even as you read. Does your story inspire hope in others? Are you a storyteller or a life-changer? You have it in you to make an incredible impact on this world! Your story can change people’s lives and inspire them to become more than they ever imagined, but you have to write it. Many great stories go unwritten because our fears keep us from living out the tale.

Regardless of your age, there are still pages left to be written! Fill them with stories that make a difference in the world around you. Take some risks, embellish from time to time, but use the time you’ve been given effect positive change in this world. Don’t let fear leave blank pages in your life’s tale. Let your story inspire others. Be assured, you will have trials in this life, those obstacles make your story unique. It’s how we live in the midst of those moments that make us life-changers.

Who’s Watching You?

How much better the world would be if we didn’t act based on who’s watching us? Why do we try so hard to win the approval of others? What if we just did what we do and lived how we live? What if we truly were who we are in every circumstance?

Because people might not like us, that’s why! Maybe we aren’t all that impressed with ourselves so we think in order for someone else to find us valuable we have to be something we aren’t.

It really isn’t a uniquely human trait. We share the tendency to show-out with many other species that inhabit our planet. Men seem especially prone to this behavior but it isn’t expressly a male trait. Women are equally guilty but they tend to be somewhat more subtle in the approach. I think that’s so they have deniability, but they would never admit it!

From gorillas to lizards, the animal kingdom is full of examples of individuals making a spectacle of themselves in order to grab a little attention. Humans are no exception! We like to think we’re more evolved and civilized, but let your gaze fall upon that special someone sitting in the crowd at a competition and we all tend to crank it up a notch. Similar to a gorilla trying to tempt a mate, we puff out our checks and beat our chest as if to say, “Look at me!” Usually something unexpected follows, typically something funny or embarrassing. Rarely does it work out the way we hope, but we do it time and again anyway!

It’s fun to watch people at the mall or in a park because, if you watch closely, you can usually tell who’s competing for whose affection. It’s our mating ritual of sorts! I’m still guilty of it and my wife and I have been married 20 years! Let her walk by the court while I’m playing racquetball and you better believe I’ll run a little faster, try a little more and hit the ball a lot harder just to impress her and prove that she choose wisely! I might as well be in the forest shaking trees and grunting like an animal!

Women do it too, though they tend to be a little more reserved in the effort. They’re more like runners getting ready to take off on an endurance race cross country. They push a little, poking with their elbows, jostling for the best spot to start the race. They play on the reaction of the males seeking their attention while playing off the efforts of the very one they are hoping to attract. It’s a strange process, but it isn’t limited to male-female relationships!

 From the schoolyard to sports teams to the workplace, even in church, people are always pushing for favor! We try to catch the eye of that one person, hoping they’ll see us in the middle of the moment doing just the right thing in just the right way to elicit a complement or validation of some kind. We’re addicted to it. We crave affirmation like a junky craves a fix. We play it off, but deep down inside, most of us crave it.

How much better would it be if we always gave everything? No matter the situation, no matter who’s looking, with no desire to impress, we perform at 100% just because it’s the right thing to do? The world would be a different place for sure! But it’s difficult to always go full out. We hold back ever so slightly so that we still have something left for what we really want to be doing. Maybe the real problem isn’t consistency in our character but the motivation with which we do what we do. No, I imagine until the end of it all, we will see young men making fools of themselves’ to win the attention of that young lady gently jostling her way to the best position for him to see her act like she’s uninterested. No wonder we’re so confused and relationships are so hard!

A Smile That Isn’t

No doubt about it! A smile livens up the room! There are so many kinds of smiles from cheesy to roguish. It says something about the person. In fact, we assume that the person wearing the smile feels like this: beaming, joyful, happiness, twinkle, elation.

We make a lot of assumptions based on a smile, even more when a smile is lacking. The problem with those assumptions is often the person who’s always smiling is doing it to hide a deeper pain. We use our smiles like women use makeup. We cover up our true selves in an effort to put forth something more attractive to the world around us. 

Don’t get me wrong, smiles are great, but they are more than the way we hold our mouth. Smiles should be felt. They should rise up from a place deep inside. A smile should be the outward reflection of our inside condition. Regardless of how goofy it might look, then it’s a true testimony to the joy you feel.

Think about the last time you were so moved to laugh that you couldn’t stop. I mean side-splitting laughter. It happens a lot at my house and is typically preceded by one of the family making a ridiculous declaration or some embarrassing moment that I can’t discuss here. However, the result is truly amazing. You laugh so hard, you’re moved to tears. Your entire body is consumed in the moment of good humor. And what expression adorns the face in that moment? Most definitely, a genuine smile!

Have you ever tried to laugh without smiling? I don’t think it’s possible. In fact, it would be a little disconcerting. It certainly wouldn’t be jolly.

When I was in choir, my director had a favorite saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Though when a smile is forced to hide the pain it loses the sparkle. We shouldn’t just assume that the smile we see is a sign that everything is well with the bearer. Look beyond the smile to see the real person. It may be a distress signal. It might be camouflage for the world around the person. It might be, deep inside, the person is fighting to make it in this life.

Go beyond the smile to see the real person underneath. Don’t make assumptions because of what you see. A person is more than what the exterior shows. It’s what’s on the inside that truly tells the story of the people we see everyday. Go deeper. Make an investment in the world around you! Smile more, but smile for the right reasons! There is so much in this life to smile about and a true smile comes from joy felt inside.

The Hope of the Prey

The human capacity to do hurtful things is unimaginable. People take advantage of others in their most vulnerable state. It saddens me to know that no one is off limits, in fact, those who deserve a certain respect seem most often to be the target of societies predators.

I have seen a number of things through the opportunities I have been given that make me incredibly proud to call myself a part of this human race. I have also seen things that bring me a great deal of pause. I question the morality of those who would take advantage of a child or the elderly amidst tragic moments in life. Not just the morality, but their humanity.

I feel we all have a moral responsibility to watch out for the weak among us but some, who live by a different code than I do, see them as opportunity for personal gain. I feel a sense of outrage when I hear of an elderly widow taken advantage of by a group of people who meant nothing but harm through their own personal gain. That people would take advantage of others in the midst of disaster or personal loss and tragedy is sickening.

I ask this question, “How would they feel if it were their mom, dad or child being mistreated?” The sad answer is, they probably wouldn’t care or their outrage wouldn’t move them to action, only remorse that they hadn’t acted quicker on their own behalf.

The elder population should be cherished for their experience and wisdom, not targeted to make an easy dollar. Our children are our hope for the future and they shouldn’t be exploited, they should be encouraged to become something greater than even the child could dream!

Unfortunately, throughout history, there have been those who lacked the moral fortitude to stand on principle. None of us are perfect, but most have an imprint deep inside them that guides their conduct. Be it a conscious or a moral absolute, we all have deeply ingrained ideals for what is societally acceptable. Some of us chose to ignore the leading of that still small voice, but it still exists.

Whether it be a natural disaster or the loss of a loved one, there are those moments in the lives of those around when they need us to be morally strong. They need us to make the right decisions in moments when they are weakened by circumstance. Those moments bring out the best in most people and the worst in others.

I’ve seen it countless times while serving as a pastor. Some people only care about what they can get out of those around them. I pray for them because that’s a sad way to view the wonderful people we encounter each day. Better that we think of what we can do to serve those around us. Let their experience mold us as we mold those who look to us for answers. Not to be cheesy, but a circle of life kind of thing. Not for us to prey on each other, but to pray for the best in the lives of those who cross our path.

There is a hope for the future! It’s you and I, standing in the midst of human depravity and bringing a message of encouragement to that person who has been steamrolled by life. Instead of sitting back and questioning, “What can I do, I’m weak or poor or whatever,” charge forward, arms outstretched and stand alongside those who have no one. Be that one! We can make a difference if we determine in our hearts to not stand back and hold what’s most important to us close and forget about the world around us.

Imagine if each one made a moral stand when they saw those society calls weak being preyed upon. I saw the result in Pensacola! It was beautiful and hope was given to people who had none. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are called to do? It’s doesn’t require that you be financially secure or the strongest or the wisest, it requires your willingness to be a servant to the world around you. You are the hope of the prey.