ACT!

Do you know where you’re headed? Do you have a plan to get there? You’ll never reach your destination if you don’t take the first step!

Everything we attempt in life requires planning. No matter your age, a plan is necessary to achieve whatever goal you set. Maybe your goal is to write a book or to be a better parent. The only way to reach that goal is to strategically plan a course to accomplish the desired result. You have to begin to begin. Take a small step forward today. Don’t wait until tomorrow. The things we plan to start tomorrow become the regrets we face later in life.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What is the first step? Write out a goal and then, ACT on it. Planning is pointless without action to put the plan in motion. Don’t bury the plan hoping that it will happen “in time.” ACT! That single action puts things in motion.

Author Katherine Anne Porter said, “I am appalled at the aimlessness of most people’s lives. Fifty percent don’t pay any attention to where they are going; forty percent are undecided and will go in any direction. Only ten percent know what they want, and even all of them don’t go toward it.” Most people get caught up in the busyness of life. They feel helpless to change their situation so they drudge ahead through the same routine without hope of accomplishing the things about which they used to be most passionate.

The person who aspires to write a book will only dream about it until they take pen to paper and begin to write. (Or put hands to the keyboard!) Many people never start toward a goal because they don’t know where to begin. One sentence on paper is closer than an entire book written in the mind. The idea is to begin. Start writing. It may never go any further but it is necessary to achieve the goal.

The parent who struggles with their child desires a strong relationship throughout their child’s life. It takes time to build the foundation for that strong relationship. So look at your calendar and plan time now!  Intentional time is more valuable than passive time. A child, from birth throughout college and beyond needs a parent to focus on and encourage them. Focused activity doesn’t just happen! It requires a plan and then setting that plan into action.

Goals are necessary to achieve a desired result in every area of life, be it relationships, dreams, or career aspirations. If you aren’t planning to achieve the next goal and putting action to the plan, you will not arrive at the desired result.  An object at rest stays at rest, but even the slightest motion has the power to bring great change. Once it has begun, it is nearly impossible to stop. God’s plan for your life requires your action.

Pray, plan, and act upon that plan. That is the only way to get to the destination!

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Empowering your Teen

As parents the desire to protect our children is often deep-seated and can consume the relationship. We don’t want to be overbearing, but we don’t want to see them go through pain we believe might be avoided due to our experience. Finding balance is tough. We often struggle with the question, “Do I step in or should I let them learn this lesson on their own?”

Something happens as we assume the responsibility of parenthood. We remember the pain of our mistakes but tend to forget the frustration we felt when our own parents would step in and try to stop us from making a poor choice. It’s an interesting cycle. We don’t want them to hurt so we try to assert our parental authority to avoid the pain of a bad decision or the hurt of rejection, but sometimes the hurt is a necessary part of growth.

I would love to say that life can be lived without pain or grief but that contradicts the teaching of Christ. When He promised, “In this life you will have trouble,” He didn’t say, “until you come to me and I will make it all easy,” or, “your parents will make all your choices for you so you never make a bad one.” No, He said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In other words, He had experienced life and come through it. He sets the perfect example of how to parent without being overbearing or smothering. He brings us comfort.

As parents, we need to offer wisdom, but we can’t make their decisions for them. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will mot depart from it.” It’s so important that we live a consistent example in front of our children, regardless of their age. Our example will set a foundation in their life that they will default to when making difficult decisions. The path God has set for them may require a different set of instructions than our own. It may be different than the road we think is best for them.

As parents, we have the power to encourage a child to pursue their passions or derail them from the call God has for them. If we equip our children to succeed, there is no limit to their potential. Whether they end up in the place we hoped or something beyond our wildest expectations, they will always remember the support you gave and appreciate your belief in who God created them to be.

It’s a difficult course of action because we want to help them avoid pain. We may even feel guilty for inaction. Pray! God will tell you when you need to move and when you need to let them grow. Trust the love of Christ to guide them even when you aren’t there to catch them when they fall.

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.”

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.

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.

Iron Out the Wrinkles

There is something relaxing about ironing. Now I’m sure the professional ironer might disagree, but I find it soothing. You take this wrinkled piece of fabric and with little effort you make it smooth, even crisp if you add starch.

 

I know some of you may think I’ve lost my mind, but I haven’t. It’s a peaceful process. Sometimes I wish life were as easy as ironing the wrinkles from a pair of slacks or a nice shirt. Unfortunately, life’s wrinkles are more complex. At least I wouldn’t advise trying to iron them away… not in the conventional sense. You might burn yourself! Still, wouldn’t it be awesome to simply press the steam button to smooth out those stubborn, wrinkly moments?

 

I used to laugh at people who spent so much time ironing. I do a lot of physical activity and I wear a lot of t-shirts. It never made sense to me to iron out the wrinkles. I thought it was a waste of time! Forget about ironing my jeans, gheesh! My wife would look at what I’d put on and say things like, “That could really use ironing,” but I’d just laugh. It didn’t matter to me! If a shirt was really bad, I’d throw it in the dryer with a damp towel for 10 minutes. Sort of a cheater’s way to loosen the wrinkles, but they were still there, just not as noticeable.

 

It really was quite silly that I would go to such extremes to avoid ironing. I have even thrown clothes that were clean back in the wash because they were too wrinkled to deal with! I realize how absurd this must sound, but it was as though I thought ironing made me a little less tough. Like the wrinkles in my clothes were the mark of hard work and determination when really, I just looked sloppy.

 

It may seem like a strange comparison, ironing a t-shirt and struggles in life, but really, they are quite similar. It was my pride that kept me from ironing the wrinkles in my clothes but it translated to a lack of concern for my appearance to those around me. We often hide our struggles in much the same way. Because of our pride, we put on the appearance that all is well. We wear a false smile and resist asking people for the very thing that’s needed, good ironing.

 

Iron sharpens iron but our pride keeps us dull. We need to iron out the wrinkles! Instead of holding onto our struggles for fear someone will discover our weaknesses (which is another, very destructive form of pride), we need to find someone we can trust to help us through the process. Then, we need to return the favor. Accountability isn’t supposed to be hard and uncomfortable! We all need people around us who can help keep us sharp. We need to be able to accept their help without being offended by what they say to us.

 

Love often requires the difficult situations to be addressed head on, but we often avoid them for comfort’s sake. It would be like a bride or groom dressing in sweats and a wrinkled t-shirt because they couldn’t be bothered to present their best on the wedding day! I’m sure it’s happened, but what does it really say? I love you, but I don’t want to be uncomfortable, so I didn’t try.

 

Real love doesn’t avoid uncomfortable situations because it is understood that the discomfort only lasts for a short time. After the discomfort of being sharpened, we are stronger than before and ready to cut through the trials that come! That’s hard to do when we aren’t sharp because we refuse to let the wrinkles be ironed out in favor of comfort. In fact, it’s impossible.

 

Have you found someone to help you smooth out the wrinkles in your life? If you haven’t, you really need to! Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and trust someone with your struggles. You might discover that they needed someone to help them iron things out too!