reflections of mine others might find useful

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Keeping computers out of kids’ bedrooms is not the answer.

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Sometimes parents believe that as long as the computer resides in a common family area our kids are safe.   I want to tell you about a bizarre intervention I did that proved how wrong this idea is.

Over a decade ago — in the days before cell phones — an anonymous teen began “Instant Messaging” me using a fake screen name.  All I knew was that he knew me and that he was someone in our youth group.  His IMs to me continued daily and he shared about being depressed and having thoughts of despair and suicide.   I was glad to offer as much encouragement and perspective as I could.  Over the course of several weeks he unknowingly gave me enough clues that I figured out who he was, but i didn’t let on.  I’ll call him Roger.

Late one evening Roger was especially troubled and messaged that he was planning to kill himself that very night!  He even had a plan in place!  Yikes!  I knew an immediate intervention was necessary, but I was unsure of how to proceed.

I needed to talk to Roger’s parents, but didn’t want to raise any alarm which might make him either kill himself or bolt.  Calling the family phone so late at night would be too risky.  I decided the best response was to drive to his house and assess the situation from there — and hopefully find a way to talk to his parents without his awareness.

I recruited my intern to sit at my computer, to keep Roger engaged in conversation with “me!”  What a nerve-wracking assignment it was for this poor guy — keep Roger alive by pretending to be me!  Prayerfully, I drove to Roger’s house.

When I got there I prowled around the house — in pouring rain no less — peaking through various windows to get a glimpse of what was going on.  What I found shocked me.  There in the family room his parents were sitting on a couch watching — no kidding — “Leave it to Beaver.”  Not 10 feet away Roger was sitting at the family computer typing his nightmarish, suicidal plans to “me.”    Wow!

Miraculously, I was finally able to get the parents’ attention without Roger’s knowledge.  Dripping wet from the rain, I revealed to them that their son was in a depressive crisis, which they were completely unaware of.  It took me showing them the written transcript I had brought of Roger’s dire IMs to convince them.  Once they were convinced, the three of us walked out into the family room and confronted him.  He was shocked — but ultimately relieved — to have been found out.  His parents showed tremendous empathy and concern, and immediately got him treatment for his depression.  Roger was rescued!

Today, more than a decade later,  Roger is an emotionally healthy,  growing Christian husband.  I still marvel at the way God allowed me to be part of that turning point in his life.

I wanted to share this story because it proves something very important:  parents mustn’t assume that simply having the computer in public view is enough to keep them safe.  Relying on that gives a false sense of security.

But perhaps my point is moot.  With today’s proliferation of computers at school and friends’ houses–in addition to tablets, ipads, smart phones, laptops, etc.–it would be nearly impossible for parents to monitor 100% of their kids’ computer use.

And even though I am in favor of them we can’t rely solely on filters, keystroke loggers, and accountability software either.  One couple recently told me how their teenage son builds and refurbishes computers with parts he keeps in his bedroom.  He knows way more about circumventing filters and firewalls than they do!

So is there any hope for protecting our kids from online dangers?   Four thoughts.

  • We need to be reasonably attentive to what’s going on in our kid’s world.
  • We need to find out what’s going on in our kid’s heart.
  • We need to recognize that Parental Control has serious limitations.
  • We would be wise to figure out how to have strong Parental Influence.

I’ll write my thoughts about the difference between Parental Control and Parental Influence in my next blog posts.

Thanks for reading.

Do people really care what you wear?

my sunday duds (2)

I was chatting with a guy one time who told me how burdened he was with deciding what to wear to church on Sundays.  It was causing him quite a bit of anxiety.   It struck me that anxiety over this is needless.  It shouldn’t matter what one wears.

I decided to do an experiment.  I would wear the exact same outfit every Sunday until someone made a comment.  I wore the same purple shirt, argyle sweater, & dress pants each week.

I started last November and it took until just now in May –seven months later –before anyone mentioned it.

 This could mean one of three things.

  1. People don’t care what you wear.
  2. People are nice and don’t say what they’re thinking.
  3. I do so many odd things that no one notices anymore.

Regardless, this seems like a good occasion to remember these words of Jesus:

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:28-34 (NIV)

Oh, and by the way, I don’t care what you wear — as long as it’s modest!

I want to live in a mental hospital


I want to live in a mental hospital.

This past Wednesday night in youth group we discussed a Ted Talk video called “Lessons from the Mental Hospital .”   The woman shared her struggles with eating disorders, depression, and addictions.  She talked about how when she was institutionalized as a senior in high schooler she finally found a community where she could take off her masks and begin to deal with her own brokenness.

One comment that stood out to me was “in the mental hospital everyone wore their scars on the outside”.

Listen to more of the things she said.

  • there was no pretending, the jig was up.
  • we could express how we really felt
  • everyone learned how to be a good listener.
  • how to be brave enough to tell our own story while being kind enough not tell anybody else’s.
  • nobody was allowed to be left out.  everybody was worthy just because they existed.
  • there we were brave enough to take off our [masks]

It struck me that this is the kind of community we need our church and youth group to be.  We live in a world full of broken people, including ourselves.  Let’s not make people wait until they get to the mental hospital to offer them this kind of support.

Engaging your child’s heart with five simple words.


Here’s a repost of a blog I wrote nine years ago today that is even more important in today’s digital world of relational distractedness…

The other day my 14 year old Bren and I were essentially stranded in our mini-van for an hour, fully expecting to be bored.  On a whim, I said five words that transformed our time into one of our most meaningful conversations ever!

“Let’s ask each other questions.”  

It was that simple.  What followed was a journey through our private worlds that built a bridge between us.   For a solid hour we took turns asking each other questions that we were curious about.  We both came away so excited about our conversation that we told the rest of the family what happened.  Since then, I tried it on a car ride with Lexi, my 11 year old with equal success.   Here are some samples of the kinds of questions we shared and that you could share with your kids…

“What was something fun that you did in college?”

“What’s one thing you’re not so good at?”

“What do you think of dating?”

“What’s do you think is one of Mom’s greatest character qualities?”

“What do you like most about being a pastor?”

“What is it about track that you like?”

I encourage you to try saying these 5 powerful words to your kids (or maybe your spouse!) when you have a little spare time together.  

2017 update:  

We used these five words often over the past nine years, but always in one-on-one settings.  Recently, Cindy and I tried using them with a student who is staying with us –a threesome!  We each took turns asking the other two questions for the good part of an hour.  So we discovered it also works in groups of three (presumably more as well!)  It was super fun and even Cindy and I learned things about one another we hadn’t known.  

In today’s digital age, let’s not default to social media consumption or electronic entertainment.  There’s a lot we can learn from each other through such face to face inquisitiveness!

Love Fails

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For many years I’ve been reflecting on the topic of love within marriages, families and friendships — and my profound conclusion is this:  Love Fails!

“Forstrom’s a heretic!” the Bible scholar will contend. “He’s 180 degrees off-base!  1 Corinthians 13:8 clearly instructs us that “Love never fails.”

Others will call me a pessimist. “Shouldn’t he be upholding unfailing love as the foundation on which to build healthy relationships?   What’s gotten into this guy?”

Let me explain.

Unconditional, pure, selfless love is certainly the biblical ideal — and at times it is achievable — but it’s never sustainable.

Human love always falls short. It’s unreliable. Limited. Lacking. Temporary.  Incomplete. Eventually, love always fails.

This is important to understand because if we don’t concede that others’ love will inevitably fail us, our expectations of them will be unrealistic and we will be needlessly — and perpectually —  offended.

Let me illustrate from our own lives with reference to Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.

  • I am very aware that Cindy’s primary love language is “Acts of Service”, and yet here I am blogging instead of scrubbing the shower.  In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I spend an average of about 23.5 hours a day not doing acts of service for her!
  • As for me, my primary love language is “Touch” — and you can be sure that I have made my wife Cindy very aware of that fact!  But at this moment as I write this she is not touching me.  She’s working on her “pile.”  She could be rubbing my shoulders at this very moment but she’s not — to my chagrin.  In fact Cindy spends about 15+ hours every day not touching me. (Note: I’m giving her full credit for all the time we spend sleeping–we share a “super single” sized waterbed so not touching me is not an option for those 7 or 8 hours!)

The point is this:  Cindy and I will never love and serve one another as much as we could.  There will always be one more honey-do project I could have done today.  Every backrub she thinks to gives me could have lasted 1 minute longer.  Or an hour longer.  Our love for each other always falls short of what it could have been.

Of course loving others involves much more than Touch or Acts of Service — there are multiple expressions of love.  But the reality is that the time and effort we spend intentionally and actively loving each other is quite often interrupted by other things.  Plus, we’re forgetful, we get distracted, we get overloaded, we’re unaware of needs, we lose momentum, we lose focus, we misprioritize, we run out of energy, and sometimes we get lazy.

Many people live their whole lives perpetually offended by this.

Instead of wallowing in feelings of neglect and resentment let’s put the failing love of others in perspective.  Here are seven ways:

  1. Cut them some slack.  Concede that others are simply human and prone to fall short.  Except by the grace of God, there go I.
  2. Recognize that life pulls people in many directions.  As I blogged about earlier we shouldn’t require others to do their best all the time.  Let’s not expect them to do as much for us as they could, instead let’s keep our expectations realistic.
  3.  Admit that we’re not the only recipient of someone’s love.  We have to share our loved ones with others. To not share them is to be controlling, manipulative, and selfish.  It it important to remember that we don’t need them.
  4. Recognize that our felt needs do not necessarily define what is best for us.  If Cindy gave me backrubs 16 hours a day the bills wouldn’t be paid, the house would be in disarray, etc.  If I did acts of service for Cindy around the house 16 hours a day I wouldn’t bring home a paycheck and we would no longer have a house!  My felt needs are not all that matters.
  5.  Humble yourself and admit how much you yourself also fail at loving others.  When I start to feel neglected by others an instant cure comes when I recognize how much more I’ve neglected them.  Take the log out of your own eye first, adopting the attitude of Brother Lawrence, “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.” (The Practice of the Presence of God).
  6. Remind one another that your love is guaranteed to fail them.  Make it very clear that they can expect this from you.  Not that you’ll willfully harm them or spitefully neglect them, but that your love will ultimately fall short of all it could be.   “I promise to neglect you,” is a phrase they ought to hear you say, knowing that this will never be intentional, but that it will be inevitable.
  7. Trust in God’s unfailing love rather than man’s.  Allow the failings of human love to be useful in giving us a thirst for that love which never fails.

Guaranteed to fail you,


Zero tolerance for disrespect.

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hand-70508_1920Parents have to choose which rules and behaviors will be mandatory in the home and which will be optional.

In our home RESPECT was a non-negotiable value and it should be in yours as well!

Parents who allow their children to treat them disrespectfully are doing themselves and their kids a great disservice.

The simplest way to understand this is found in the adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

It’s much more than a cliché — it’s an important principle of human relations that our kids need to learn while growing up in our homes.

And yet I see many homes where the kids treat the parents with complete disregard.  They behave as if the parents owe them things. And too often the parents seem to believe it.

Why would parents tolerate such disrespect?  Perhaps because they are trying to keep the kids calm and it’s easier to take the abuse rather than confront the behavior.  Perhaps it’s because the parents have such a low view of themselves that they somehow think they deserve to be mistreated.  Perhaps the disrespect crept in slowly and subtly and they’ve failed to recognize how inappropriate it is.

Whatever the situation, I want to make the case for having zero tolerance when it comes to disrespect in the home.

First of all, let’s see how respect for authority works in the real world…

  • If I disrespect my teacher, I’ll get a bad grade.
  • If I disrespect my principal, I could get suspended.
  • If I disrespect my youth pastor, I’ll likely get sent home from the retreat.
  • If I disrespect my boss, I can expect to get fired (I certainly won’t get a bonus).
  • If I disrespect a police officer I’ll get additional charges added to my offense.
  • If I disrespect the head of a totalitarian regime I’ll certainly be executed.

That’s the way the world works.  And yet in today’s culture if a kid disrespects a parent we often see that parent continue to shower the kid with blessings!  Why would we keep feeding someone who bites our hand?  It doesn’t make any sense!

Second, as parents, we need to recognize that our kids are completely beholden to us.  We have resources, assets, and benefits that our kids desperately want.   We — not they — own the house, the car, the computers, the TV, the internet, the food, their clothes, their bedroom, their phone, their tablet, the furniture, Netflix, their toys, their hobby and sports costs, their private lessons, their extra curricular activities, special gifts, etc.  (Legally, we are only required to give them basic food, shelter, and protection.  Anything beyond that is optional!)

Third, the earlier respect is insisted on, the easier it will be to maintain.  As soon as our toddlers could talk we implemented this three-fold rule for requesting anything from anyone.  1.) It had to contain the word “please.”  2.) It had to be in the form of a question.  3.) It had to be given in a pleasant tone of voice.  This taught them at the earliest age that to request a favor from someone required respectful treatment.

Fourth, too many parents handle disrespect by demanding respect, yelling at the kids, blaming and shaming, or treating them in other disrespectful ways.  Let’s never fight disrespect with disrespect!

Side note:   as parents we have a Biblical right to be treated respectfully.  The New Testament says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.”  And the Old Testament commands children to “Honor your father and mother.”  And extreme disrespect for parents was even considered a capital crime.  

But as parents, it’s not always useful to claim our rights.  Too many parents use the Bible as a weapon to control their children, “lording it over them.”  I’ve seen this produce resentment toward parents as well as toward God.  Jesus modeled servant leadership, not authoritarian leadership, which lays aside our rights. 

In conclusion, let’s handle disrespect in a way that prepares our kids for how the real world works — by simply withholding blessings. Don’t make it an issue of asserting your authority, rather make it about reasonable human relations — one shouldn’t expect favors from those one offends.  Do this with empathy and with a clear motive of instruction — rather than threats or retribution.

If you’ve been lax on this, the first conversation might go something like this:  Johnny, I’ve noticed a pattern happening in our home that I feel we need to change.  When you speak to me [in such and such a way] I feel disrespected.  If I were to continue to shower you with blessings after such treatment it would not be teaching you the right lesson.  That is not the way the world works.  The old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is true and it would be wrong for me to reward disrespectful treatment.  I just wanted to have this conversation to start you thinking about the disrespect that I sometimes feel from you.  I want to give you the opportunity to begin to change that behavior so that I feel respected by you.  But I also want you to know that if your disrespectful treatment continues, I’ll need to start re-evaluating the blessings I provide you to see if withholding them for a while might be a good teaching tool for you.  I want to shower you with blessings and it would make me sad if I had to suspend any of them.  Also, it’s important for me to say that I’m not asking you to do anything for me that I’m not willing to do for you.  I commit myself to treating you with respect at all times, and if sometimes you don’t feel my respect I want you to let me know that too, so I can make things right between us, ok?  I want our home to become a place where everyone feels respected and valued and I need your help to do that!

Who’s in charge here?

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family-40370_1280Many of you know that for several years I’ve taught a weekly parenting class at Bridgehaven.  I love exploring effective parenting principles and techniques with these delightful moms and dads, many of whom are first-time parents!

This past Monday we talked about two of the most foundational questions pertaining to family life — Who’s in charge of the home? and How is leadership expressed?

Note: this post is long because it represents an hour-long classroom discussion.  But I post it here because it sets a paradigm for good parental leadership…

There are essentially three ways to lead families.  Let’s consider the realities, the problems, and the long-term outcomes of each, for parents as well as kids.


The Authoritarian style of parenting is where the parents act as dictators, controlling everything in the family.  Its mantras are “Because I said so!” and “It’s my way or the high way.”  It uses the Bible verse: “Children obey your parents” as a club.

The Problem.  These parents have abused their God-given responsibility for leading their household.  Although the parents are being decisive and fully engaged, this style of parenting represents an abuse of power.  It devalues the rest of the family and makes them subservient — the will of the parents is all that matters.  Children have no voice and are made to comply with whatever the parents say must happen.  Kids are never allowed to weigh in regarding the reasonableness of rules, their ideas are never heard, nor are they asked about how decisions might affect them.  They’re not allowed to think or feel — they are simply told what they must do.  There is no negotiating whatsoever.  To the children, it feels as if they are treated like property or cattle to be herded.

The Outcome.  This style of parenting produces a variety of problems in kids.  Compliant children develop a low sense of self-worth because they were never allowed to share an opinion or have any input in the family decisions.  They don’t learn how to think or make decisions because they are never allowed to.  They feel unimportant and unworthy of having a say in things.  This sets them up for a potential life of mistreatment by other power abusers.  For others, it evokes resentment and a lack of respect and trust.  I talked to a teen recently who was so resentful toward her authoritarian parent that she was literally counting the days until she could leave home.  For strong-willed children, it results in kids who constantly battle with parents, who hate authority, and who rebel.

Sadly, this parenting style creates children who will likely abandon the home at the first opportunity and then avoid their parents for the rest of their lives.  Nobody wins.


The Permissive style of parenting is the exact opposite of the Authoritarian style.  This style represents passive and disengaged household leadership.  To a large degree the children are allowed to do as they please.  The kids primarily determine the climate of the home in terms of attitude, language, rules, and decisions.  They normally get their way — usurping any parental rules or expectations — by using whatever tactics they can:  manipulation, guilt trips, explosive anger, or simply wearing down the parents.

The Problem.  These parents have abdicated their God-given responsibility for leading their households.  They are more concerned about keeping their kids happy or off their backs than they are about their well-being.  By making the kids’ wishes preeminent, they put the will of the kids ahead of the will of God — and their own better judgment.  It is parental negligence.

The Outcome.  The absence of rules and restrictions sets these kids up to make reckless, foolish, impulsive choices which often bring damaging results.  These kids also develop an attitude of entitlement and a disregard for authority.  Though they may enjoy being in charge of their lives, they lack the feelings of security, protection and care that comes from parents who set limits.  When the kids eventually come to regret the baggage gained during their youthful excesses they will recognize how much of this pain was caused by their parents’ neglect.  Kids with permissive parents lose their respect for them. In fact they see their parents as weak, unable to stand up even to a kid.

Sadly, this parenting style creates entitled children who will likely treat their parents as pushovers for the rest of their lives, and in some cases it even leads to parental abuse.  Nobody wins.

SERVANT LEADERSHIP PARENTING  (i.e. leading like Jesus).

This final style of parenting avoids the pitfalls of the other two.  It maintains the authority of parents, but not in a way that dehumanizes or abuses the children.  It also allows the kids to have a voice and to participate in the decision-making, but in a way that neither idolizes them nor cowers to their demands.

The Solution.  These parents have embraced their God-given responsibility for leading their households.  It’s a concept that our former pastor Ray Barrett taught me years ago — Servant Leadership.  It means to lead like Jesus.   I’ll never forget the animated way that Ray would share about the conversation Jesus had with His disciples as recorded in Mark 10:42-45…

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   

Though Jesus wasn’t specifically talking about parenting in the passage above, the principles apply to leadership at all levels, including the home!  And these servant leader principles are found throughout scripture.  Consider these two examples:  Ephesians 5 tells each husband to “Love your wife as Christ loved the church…with a willingness to lay down your life for her.”  Ephesians 6 tells fathers to “Not exasperate your children.”   Biblical leadership in the home is neither a dictatorship nor a relinquishment of responsibility.

The Outcome. The Servant Leadership that Jesus taught is one that serves all the members of the family.  Everyone feels valued and cared for and listened to and consulted.  Problems are identified and discussed as a family.  Solutions worked out together.  Feelings are heard and validated.  There is a spirit of transparency and togetherness.  It’s the parents who make the final decisions, but this is done based on their assessment of what is for the good of all, and based on everyone’s input.  These parents understand that they will answer to God for how they love their families and run their home. The kids may not agree with all the rules or decisions, but they understand that rules and decisions have been set in place by a servant leader, not by a dictator or pushover.  And the kids know that their parents care how they feel about things.  The parents are always interested in receiving respectfully-delivered feedback and are willing to reconsider decisions and negotiate changes.

Happily, this parenting style creates children who will likely treat their parents and themselves and their world with lifelong respect and servanthood.

An Apology…


An apology, if genuine, is one of the most powerful forces on earth.  It can mend fractured relationships, can instantly heal decades-old wounds, can re-unite families, can stop wars, can keep a teen from running away.  We need more of them.

An apology is rarely made these days.  People dig in their heels and won’t admit they were wrong.  Look at our political climate recently.  So much abusive mudslinging and devaluing of people, yet I can’t recall a single heartfelt apology.  They were owed, but never given.  So much pain inflicted.

An apology requires humility.

An apology is always a good idea.  When you sense tension in a relationship, apologize for whatever you may have done to contribute to it.  Even if you think the other person was mostly to blame and you had little culpability, take the first step and apologize for your part anyways.    When in doubt, apologize.  This principle will serve you well.

An apology must take full responsibility for one’s actions.  Avoid flimsy, fake, vague apologies such as, “I’m sorry you were offended by my words.”  Or, “I didn’t communicate as well as I might have.”  A good apology bares one’s soul and exposes the real offense with no sugar-coating.  “When I slammed the door in your face I was treating you with complete disrespect.  That was wrong of me.  You deserve better than that and I am ashamed of how this must have made you feel.  I am truly sorry, will you forgive me?”

An apology makes no excuses like “I wasn’t in a good frame of mind” or “I spoke out of frustration.”

An apology must be clear about what the person did wrong and demonstrates understanding of the damage that was caused to the other in a spirit of brokenness.

An apology removes bricks from the relational walls that separate us.  And builds bridges instead.

An apology coming from an authority (parent, government leader, etc) is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.  The impact of such an apology will actually garner respect and your children or constituents will follow you with more loyalty than if you tried to cover-up your obvious misdeeds.  Children whose parents are in the habit of apologizing for their errors will grow up taking responsibility for their own blunders.

An apology is meaningless if done out of obligation.

An apology should be freely given, but never demanded.  To tell someone, “You owe me an apology” doesn’t fix anything.  It simply puts the other person under obligation.  The apology that may follow will be forced, with no certainty that it was genuine.  It’s fair to let the other person know how their actions hurt  you.  Then it’s up to them to apologize, or not apologize.  (But if you tell them how they hurt you be sure you’re doing it for their benefit, not as an attack.  Otherwise you are being manipulative.)

An apology that’s not given by another doesn’t give you permission to mistreat that person back.  It is possible to forgive someone who won’t apologize, in fact you must.  Forgiveness is you cancelling their debt, even if they don’t deserve it.  Just like what God did for you. You’ll live in freedom if you practice forgiveness towards those who don’t deserve it.  You’ll live in bondage if you live in unforgiveness, waiting for an apology that might never be given. As the adage says, “Unforgiveness is the poison we drink hoping the other person will die.”

An apology should not be forced upon children, as in “You owe your brother an apology.”  Parents’ response to injustice should be justice not empty words.

An apology should be made in public if the offense was made in public.  This kind of apology is especially powerful.  I saw a vivid example of this on a youth event once.  Both parties apologized publicly for disrespect they had each publicly shown the other.  It was a profound moment and the tension in the room melted immediately into harmony.  I will never forget that moment.

An apology must be followed up with changes in how you treat the person.  If your subsequent actions negate your words then your words will mean nothing.  When someone can’t believe the words that proceed from your mouth then you have little left.

An apology should be done as soon as you realize you’ve wounded someone.  “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  God’s advice is prudent — you’ll both sleep better.

A delayed apology is the same as no apology, just as delayed obedience is disobedience.

An apology ought to be made as frequently as you mess up — daily or even more than once a day.  I suspect living a life of quick apologies will ultimately result in having less need to apologize.

An apology, if genuine, is one of the most powerful forces on earth.  It can mend fractured relationships, can instantly heal decades-old wounds, can re-unite families, can stop wars, can keep a teen from running away.  We need more of them.

These Life Skills might save your child’s life someday.



I believe effective parenting involves giving our kids high levels of responsibility!

We want to prepare them to become adults who take care of themselves and pitch in to help others in their community.  Responsibility certainly involves them doing their share of chores, which I believe should be assigned from toddlerhood on.

And it certainly involves us teaching them life skills so that they will be fully prepared for life on their own.

The link at the end of this post contains a comprehensive list of life skills that other parents and I have collected over the years in my parenting classes.  I doubt you’ll find many we missed!

How to use the Life Skills List:

  • Use it as a checklist with each of your kids to see what skills may need to be taught year-by-year until they’re ready for college.
  • Use it as a list of fun things to do on a daddy date or during time with mom.
  • When they master a skill reward them for learning it and celebrate together this new step towards their independence!

Two quick stories before you click the link:

  1.  When our kids were in elementary school and we would go on airplane trips, we would put them in charge of finding the gate, baggage claim, ground transportation, etc. It was like a scavenger hunt for them, and it taught them to recognize signage, read an airport map, pay attention, navigate confidently in the world of adults, notice when they took a wrong turn (yes, we let them!), redirect themselves, be a leader, etc.   (I met a grown woman this week who never flies because she dreads getting lost in airports.  In contrast, my girls could fly anywhere in the English-speaking world with confidence!)


  1.  Mastering these life skills could actually save their lives. When our oldest was working at a summer camp in upstate New York she posted this on my wall:

“Dad, remember that list of life skills you gave us?…um…prolly should have practiced ‘changing a flat tire’”. 

  • My heart sank!  She got a flat on a deserted road and she had absolutely no clue what to do.  My lack of teaching her this essential life skill might have put her life in jeopardy!  She was vulnerable and therefore at the mercy of whomever might drive along that road.  Fortunately, a nice elderly man came by and installed her spare tire, but this was a wake up call to me about the importance of properly preparing our kids before sending them off into the world!


Here’s the Life Skills List!

If you see any we missed, be sure to let me know!


Letting go of our kids (on becoming “empty nesters”)


Today Cindy and I find ourselves childless, quite literally.  Our kids have gone “off the grid.”

Our oldest lives in Mexico with her husband.  Lexi, our youngest is currently in Cuba with UNI’s jazz band, doing workshops, playing jazz clubs, even touring a cigar factory.  Her final text to us said,  “Just about to leave Atlanta! Goin off the grid”

We can feel their absence.  More palpably than ever before.

Which is why I’m reflecting today on being “empty nesters.”

I’ve observed a lot of parents enter this stage of life over the years.  Some look forward to it.  Others endure it.  And many dread it.  I want to share some reflections that may help you embrace it as Cindy and I did.

  • Parents can make idols out of their own children, excessively serving them and waiting on them hand and foot and giving our undivided attention.  This creates entitled kids.  This is one reason why I believe kids should do their fair share of chores.
  • Our goal should be to raise adults, not to raise children.  While we hope to always have a position of influence in their lives, we must recognize that their dependency on mommy and daddy must come to an end.
  • The goal of parenting, ironically, is to work ourselves out of a job!  Let’s teach them all the life skills they’ll need to succeed in life without our help.
  • Parents would do well to view parenting as a “temp job” rather than a career.  God gives us 18-20 years to instill in our kids the nurturing, values and life skills that will benefit them.
  • It’s time for them to live their lives.  We watch them succeed. We let them fail. We pray.  We worry.  We pray some more.  If we’re fortunate, they’ll ask for our input.  But mostly we watch.  And pray.
  • Only about half of our adult lives involves active parenting.  That leaves the final half to be empty nesters.  We can’t live in the past, we must move forward to embrace what God has for this new chapter of life.
  • Undoubtedly there is grief to be experienced when our kids move out and on their own.  Grieve, but then move forward towards the new opportunities God brings your way.  Even if it involves them getting married.
  • Rather than dread this new season, Cindy and I choose to look forward to it.  We have enjoyed the many benefits of empty nesterhood:  more time together, less running around, simplicity, quiet, clutterfree living, more free nights on the calendar, lower food bills, and on and on….
  • Our encouraging of them to move on into life showed our confidence in their ability to make it on their own.
  • We can’t need to be parents.  Some parents have no identity of their own and no life and no interests apart from parenting.  This is not healthy!  And it’s a sure setup for devastation when those little ones go off to college and you’re left with nothing but an empty house.
  • It’s no surprise that divorces often occur soon after the kids leave home.  Why?  Because the couple’s lives revolved around the kids’ activities and they never developed a healthy marriage.

Finally, your primary identity should not be as a parent, but rather as a child of God yourself.  As I blogged recently, adopt a mindset that you don’t need anyone but God himself.  That will help you immensely as your nest empties out!

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