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An Open Letter to my Kids on Losing

Dear Kids,

I want to teach you something that you probably are not going to learn about from many of your teachers, classmates or friends. Here is what your mother and I hope you learn from our teaching:

We hope you lose.

You read this right.

We hope you lose.

From the moment you entered some type of school you have gotten participation awards, stickers, candy and a barrage of gifts just for being alive. Here is the brutal truth that they are not sharing with you: Life does not give you a participation award. Not everybody gets a full ride to school, scores the game winning touchdown or gets to be Prom Queen. Not everybody lands a six figure job, not everybody has a three car garage, not everybody gets married, has four kids and not everybody gets to wear a polo shirt.

Odds are you won’t be on Sports Center, nobody is going to tweet out your stats from a game and no matter how proud I am of your accomplishments in the classroom that will fade with time and soon, even if you’re a valedictorian, people won’t care.

So I hope you lose kids.

Why?

Because it is in our losses where we truly find the hunger for something better. All around you are people who are settling and rejoicing in mediocrity. Our society has lost the drive to make something of ourselves. Instead, we give handouts barking at the politicians claiming entitlement, which is only a mask for laziness.

They haven’t lost well kids. Sure they have lost but they have whined about it claiming this life is not fair or they didn’t get the same deck of cards others did. Really, they weren’t hungry for the win enough. They didn’t want change that badly and so they raised the white flag of uninspiration yielding to a life that really does nothing.

The best lessons I have learned in my life kids have come from losing. It taught me to work harder, become more disciplined and to be the best man I could possibly be. Even as I type the words on this computer screen I have a few things I am losing at right now. Austin O’Malley once said, “If you learn from a loss you have not lost.”

That sounds good.

If you get knocked down kids will you have the drive to get back up? Will you fight?

I hope your losing will help you clarify what is actually a real win. I hope it will give you self-discipline that will actually free you to do many things others simply cannot.

Famous wrestler and Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable once said, “Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”

Hang in there,

Dad

My advice to all of you going to prom.

Prom season is in full swing and it seems this rite of passage event for teenagers is everything a person could possibly imagine! The build-up is immense to prom for every teenager. A wishful girl can only hope that her suitor will somehow ask her to prom via some elaborate plan that ends with the letters P-R-O-M and a question mark at the end on poster board. If she is lucky there will be someone to take the picture so they can both share it on Instagram (their parents will share it on Facebook).

What ever happened to picking up the phone and calling a girl? Heck, even writing a note in a check-yes-or-no fashion!

The build up for prom is crazy!

The money on a tux, dress, make-up, limo rental, dinner, flowers, hospital deductible…kidding.

It is indeed a sight to behold all the money that goes into this. No matter how much I poke fun at the lunacy known as prom it seems this is a rite-of-passage for teenagers that my kids will probably want to attend. Unless your kid goes to a Christian school, then the name for it is called “banquet” which is prom without the dancing.

Same idea.

So if you’re going to prom (or you have a son or a daughter who is going) I have three pieces of advice for you.

#1 – Don’t be stupid

In the past year students in and around Nashville have died from drug deals going awry to overdosing on substances. If alcohol or drugs are involved then get your tail up and leave. You are too young and you have too much life ahead of you for you to simply throw it away on doing dumb things. I am going to be as transparent as possible with this next bit of advice that goes along with this point: keep your pants on and your dress down. Sex is a beautifully wonderful thing when done in a marriage covenant. Keep it under control and practice purity. Even if you are not a Christian, there are plenty of wonderful reasons to remain pure.

#2 – Have fun

The lie you are told is that you can only have fun by doing stupid things. I have done my fair share of stupid things but for the most part I have had the most amount of fun in my life in times that weren’t surrounded by idiotic mistakes. Laugh. Enjoy time with your friends. Make memories. Take plenty of pictures. Be silly. Pretend you know how to dance while people laugh at you.

#3 – Realize your identity does not come from prom

So you didn’t have someone make an elaborate plan to ask you to prom. So you didn’t even have a date or maybe the date that you had turned out to be a dud. Maybe the food was awful or your dress was not the way it should have been. It rained on you and your $150 hairdo looks like doo-doo. You know what? It really does not matter. My dad used to say, “Life is full of disappointments and this one is small in the grand scheme of things.” I don’t remember much from the two banquets I went to. I wore a chorus tux to one and the other seemed to be a huge façade to me. What I do know is I am here, alive, doing well and living life to the fullest and it has NOTHING to do with prom. My identity is who I am in the eyes of Jesus not society. Period.

So there you go. My two cents worth of advice as a youth minister, friend and father. Enjoy.

Youth Sports: Why your kid will not be pro and how to be realistic about it.

Years ago when my oldest son played his first few games in Spring baseball I was so proud of him galloping (maybe more like trotting) down the first baseline. Now we are in our fifth season watching him play baseball and we have had three other kids participate in sports in either the fall or the spring. I have noticed that every Spring I start getting a bit anxious with all the running about. As long as our kids are having fun we are going to support them in their extracurricular activities. Yet, the operative word is “support” and not “live vicariously” through them.

Every year I am surprised at how much money parents pour into their child to give them “an edge” in their sports. This past weekend I saw a dad who I frequently saw on the ball field and asked him what team he was on in the rec league we have. He said they are not doing the rec league but are on a traveling team that meets in a city that is 45 minutes from his house. He said, with a smidgen of pride in his voice, “I told my wife, I will see you in July.” It wasn’t the time or the place but I wanted to sit him down and ask him, “What are you hoping to accomplish with this?”

I think deep down many parents naively think little Johnny or little Susie are going to turn pro with all of their money and efforts. They will then reap all the benefits of their geographical meandering and financial gymnastics by watching them on Sports Center. It’s all worth it right? The problem with mom and dad’s thinking is that it is not based on a little thing called REALITY. The NCAA published some statistics on the amount of high-school athletes who will play in the NCAA and will eventually turn pro. The results were staggering:

  • Baseball: Out of 482,629 only 6.9% of those will make it to the NCAA and only 8.6% of NCAA players will turn pro.
  • Men’s Basketball: Out of 541,054 only 3.4% of those will make it to the NCAA and only 1.2% of NCAA players will turn pro.
  • Women’s Basketball: Out of 433,344 only 3.8% of those will make it to the NCAA and only 0.9% of NCAA players will turn pro.
  • Football: Out of 1,093,234 only 6.5% of those will make it to the NCAA and only 1.6% of NCAA players will turn pro.
  • Men’s Hockey: Out of 482,629 only 11.2% of those will make it to the NCAA and only 6.8% of NCAA players will turn pro.
  • Men’s Soccer: Out of 417,419 only 5.7% of those will make it to the NCAA and only 1.4% of NCAA players will turn pro.

So if your “star” athlete is in high school here are the percentages they will have at making it pro based on the figures above:

  • Baseball: 0.6%
  • Men’s Basketball: 0.04%
  • Women’s Basketball: 0.34%
  • Football: 0.10%
  • Men’s Hockey: 0.76%
  • Men’s Soccer: 0.08%

Let that sink in a bit. I know your child is different and will beat the odds but if you are realistic (I think you should be) your child will more than likely not make sports their vocation (as an athlete at least).

As a Christian dad this informs me to some observations that steer our family in a healthy way.

We will not compromise our commitment to God when it comes to sports. If they miss a practice or game because they are going on a mission trip or retreat then we could care less. If the coach benches them then at least they understand what it means to sacrifice for their faith. Don’t misunderstand me though because I am not saying every parent who involves his or her kids in sports eschews a relationship with Jesus. Both can be done even at the highest level (Tim Tebow anyone?). If we are funneling money into sports but withholding it to our local church then what example are we setting for our kids? I saw this on a website for a typical cost for travel baseball:

In the first year of the __________, we’re targeting a player fee of $3,000 for the season. This, of course, doesn’t include unofficial costs like travel, meals, lodging, etc. But that’s the amount that will come from each family through our organization to pay our own fees to keep the team going (Emphasis mine).

No thank you.

We will not scald coaches, officials or other players. Some parents should be ashamed of themselves the way they scream at people from the stands. I mean who cares really? “That girl elbowed my girl in the face and the ref missed it.” You’re right he missed it. He is a human being. Keep it classy folks and refrain from speaking critically of others especially in a tone that rivals a grizzly bear’s growl.

We will support local leagues over travel leagues. I firmly believe that athletes will rise from the top based on God-given skill and not being on an elite travel team that has a weird name and too much neon. Furthermore, when they are younger they really are not physically developed enough for it to make much of a difference. I remember a kid who was on travel leagues from the time he was 8 and nobody could catch his fastball. Much to my surprise he was in the rec league when I was 14 and everybody was still afraid of him. I went up to the plate and he pitched to me and I let it go by me. I thought, “Is that all you got?” He hummed the baseball again and I made contact with it and I am pretty sure that ball still hasn’t landed. I hit another home run on him in my next at bat. I never once played travel ball. We let our oldest play all stars one year and he was miserable by the time it was over. I think we will use discernment in this if any of our kids make all stars because we want our kids to enjoy summers with the church and with us.

We will use sports and extracurricular activities for what they should be: a catalyst for fun and social development. My kids learn so much from sports like teamwork, friendship, laughter, fun, dedication, perseverance, victory, defeat, camaraderie and disappointment. All of these are things Heather and I want our kids to learn and sports can be a wonderful place for them to learn these things. Yet the same heat that melts butter can also harden the egg. What can be a beautiful experience for a kid can also be a burden for them. Consider the clip below (language warning) from Friday Night Lights where a dad cannot accept his son “dropping the ball.”

Hopefully you understand the tone of this post and this in no way a slam against parents who do travel ball, multiple sports, or things like that. I guess my intention with what I advocate is a more sensible approach that maximizes the time with your family and allows them to just simply be kids. I understand there are people who disagree with this post and I am sensitive to that. I am not trying to place an either/or type of dichotomy but simply give you some principles to think about.

Play ball.

 

IMAGE CREDITS: ScaryMommy.com

5 things not to do when you talk to your child about sex

My oldest son and I are walking through some material discussing God’s view on sex. It is a holistic and age-appropriate book written to help parents walk with their child on this journey. Growing up I never really had the “talk” and found most of my information via “locker room talks” hanging out with the guys. I want you to know that I am not an expert and what I want to share comes from some mistakes I am making in talking to my kids but also some lessons I learned growing up. Part of the assumption of this blog post is that you are talking to your kids about sex or at least have the desire to. I hope you will consider talking to them because the ramifications of not doing so could be permanent damage.

So this is what not to do when you talk to your kids about sex…

#1 – Don’t take yourself too serious.

I was sitting there talking with my son and I said the word “sex” and he immediately his eyes got big, his face turned red and he pressed his lips hard against each other holding back a burst of laughter. He is nervous and I am nervous so I just said: “It’s ok to giggle a bit.” We both laughed. Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do and there is some developmental psychologist out there who disagrees with me but I firmly believe in laughter to ease the tension. It does not take away from the seriousness of the subject but there are some things that just deserve a good laugh. Don’t take yourself so serious and I assure you your child will respond and might actually enjoy these discussions.

#2 – Don’t assume.

“He already knows about that,” are five words you should never ever say. He may know but he probably has not heard it from you and I can guarantee he hasn’t heard it from God’s word so it’s best to not assume. Also, don’t make assumptions about whether your child is or is not interested or if you are or are not getting any information through. Let God do the work and you simply obey him with the task of guiding your son or daughter through adolescence so they can have a game plan for what God has for their body.

#3 – Don’t lecture

Look at the discussion as an opportunity for both of you to learn instead of you “imparting knowledge” to them. Ask open-ended questions and listen for them to say answers like, “I don’t know” or, “I am not sure” a lot. Encourage them to ask you questions too and go in with the attitude that you are serving them and are willing to listen.

#4 – Don’t hide your failures.

“Son I am talking with you because when I was your age I did not have anyone to sit down and talk with me and I made a lot of mistakes growing up that I am not proud of.” Those were my exact words when I sat down with my son a couple days ago. The statistics are not good when it comes to those who have had sex before marriage. Odds are many parents (even those who grew up in a Christian home) have failed in this category and hiding that information I think would do more harm than good. Yet, there are good ways to share information and bad ways. I do not think you should share all your battle scars but some blanket statements about your failures should be on the table and open for discussion.

#5 – Don’t leave Scripture out of it.

Why should my son or daughter be concerned about discussion on sex? From a strictly human perspective we could say STDs, unwanted pregnancies and other issues might prompt us into a discussion about “safe sex.” I believe, however, that casual sex does more psychological harm than good because my default posture is that sex is properly defined from a God-centric mentality. When we properly use Scripture as our ethos when it comes to morality I believe it will not ruin our view on sex as some have suggested but it will rejuvenate it. Unfortunately many Christian parents and ministers have simply said, “God hates sex before marriage so don’t do it.” The bible is full of more than that.

It is our job as parents to teach our kids about sex and I have given you five things that you should not do when it comes to your discussions. What are some things you would add to this list?

 

Book Review: Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality by Jim Burns

Say your kid walks in from school one day and the conversation goes something like this:

  • James: “Hey mommy I got to ask you something?”
  • Mom: “Ok James. What’s on your mind?”
  • James: “What does the word ‘sex’ mean?”
  • Mom: “Oh dear…”

I bet many of you parents have had that same conversation in your house or something similar. Depending on your story the word “sex” can either be a word that has negative or positive connotations to it. I am not sure how you guys had “the talk” growing up but my tutelage on sex usually came in “locker-room” conversations and not from my parents. Unfortunately, our children are more likely to hear sex from media or other sources and by the time talk about it they may know more than we do.

Jim Burns, President of HomeWord and Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University, is the author of this wonderful book called Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality. I purchased this book probably five years ago and on a whim decided I should read it and took it off my shelf. I should have read it years ago.

The book is a practical approach at how to come alongside of your children to teach, coach and train them in ways to think healthy when it comes to sex. By “healthy” he means approaching the subject with a God-centric mentality. He spends the greater part of a chapter coming up with a theology on sex. The good part is that God loves sex and we should to but within the confines of its ordained place: marriage. Dr. Burns tackles the tough issues and does not shy away from handling these conversations but does so with grace.

For me as a dad, the best section he discusses is the chapter on creating a plan and a purpose for discussing age-appropriate developmental issues. There is no such thing as “the talk” and Dr. Burns is quick to note that it is a bunch of talks handling a bunch of issues over time.

I recommend this book as a primer for parents to initiate these conversations with their children. Many of them, I think, are like me where you are just wondering: “Where in the world do I start?” Start with this book. I am serious. It is that important. I also think this is a must read for youth and children’s ministry staff which should serve as an introduction for all sex discussions within the youth group.[1]

Quotes…

  • Sex is better when couples have a spiritual connection, and sex is not better if you live together before marriage. (p. 16)
  • Another troubling aspect of the crisis is that sex fools kids into “instant intimacy.” When young people become physically intimate with each other and then break up, it leaves scars…The more I saw a negative change in the emotional health of students who had just broken up, the more I heard they had been sexually involved. (p. 23)
  • No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to keep your kids in a bubble long enough to not be influenced or impacted by the culture’s view on sex. (p. 33)
  • SEX IS ENJOYABLE. ([Emphasis mine 😉 p. 36)
  • Modesty is actually more than wearing non-revealing clothes. Modesty applies to the way we act, dress and live. (p. 54)
  • The most effective way to teach healthy sexuality is to take advantage of spontaneous teachable moments whenever possible instead of more formal talks. (p. 72)
  • Frankly, you aren’t running a popularity contest as a parent. You are, in fact, in the protection business. (p. 86)
  • Oral sex is sex…Our sexuality is based on so much more than just intercourse, and this needs to be communicated to kids. (p. 91)
  • I have several friends who are women. I love them and respect them, but I also know that in order to keep the relationship healthy, I need to set good boundaries. (p. 126)

 

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[1] Especially helpful was Chapter 6 that deals with sex abuse issues. Ministry folks recognizing the signs and signals of sex abuse could be the difference in a young person’s life.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on Parenting

Parenting is a tough thing to do friends. There is no such thing as cruise control for parenting. One minute they are sweet little angels and the next minute you wonder if a poltergeist has taken over the house. In 2005 when Heather and I became parents we had no idea for the ride we were about to endure.

Do you ever wonder why there is not much in Scripture on how to parent your child?

Sure there are a couple of references to rearing them in Scripture and all of Scripture is laden with principles we can use in parenting but God does not seem to want to come right out and say, “This is how you parent your child.”

Why do you think that is the case?

Part of it is that we are all so different. I read a blog today that was pretty sobering and the author shared this:

Anyone with more than one child will have noticed a curious thing: their personalities are often very dissimilar. In fact, according to a study by Plomin and Daniels (1987), siblings have no more in common in their personalities than two completely unrelated strangers. This is very weird given that 50% of their genetic code is identical…And all these differences add up to quite remarkable dissimilarities between siblings–often such that if they didn’t look alike, you’d never know they were related. All this means, of course, that because their personalities are often so different, parenting strategies that work with one child, may not work with another ([Emphasis Mine] Source).

So just when you think you have one child mastered in terms of parenting that same strategy does not work with the other child (multiply this by four and you see the quandary Heather and I are in).

God knew what he was doing when he gave parents freedom to parent based on their own unique context. He gave us a unique body of believers to come alongside and do life with who also are struggling in their parenting. Even though I quoted a source above I am somewhat leery of the phrase “A new study shows…” as experts seem to flip-flop much like a pendulum does.

So in the unique way God created us I think Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young has some wisdom for us parents who often do not have things together. The song “Teach Your Children” is a beautiful reminder to me that no everyday is going to be easy when it comes to parenting but in spite of the complications of parenting at the end of the day love will get you through.

Here are the lyrics:

You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix,the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.