reflections of mine others might find useful

Page 2 of 23

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 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 — preparing to spend the next 20+ years (potentially) in Africa.  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!

Enforceable Statements vs. Issuing Commands.


Today I taught my parenting class at Bridgehaven a tool that might very well be my favorite parenting strategy of all time:  Enforceable Statements!

I’ve blogged about them before, but today I’m motivated to update that important post.

Invariably there will be a gap between the behavior that we would like from our kids and their actual behavior.  The parental response to such “bad behavior” is often commanding, nagging, scolding, threatening, or yelling.  The result is tension in the home at best, resentment most likely, and at worst, hatred.

Telling our kids what they must do is what we call, in English, the “imperative mood”.

Here are some examples of this imperative approach:  “Sit still”. “Be quiet.”  “Keep your hands to yourself.”  “Eat your peas.” “Clean your room right now.”  “Stop that screaming.”  “Do your homework.”  “Take out the trash.”  “Do the dishes.” “Get out there and mow the yard!!”

While I do believe that parents have the God-given right and authority to command their children, I have found that it’s more useful to set this “right” aside as often as possible because of how it affects the relationship with their kids.

The problem with a commanding approach is four-fold.  

  1. People universally resent being told what to do — our kids are no different. It feels demeaning and disrespectful and authoritarian.
  2. It forces you and your kids into a “battle of the wills” in which everyone ends up losing.  This is especially true for kids who are strong-willed, oppositional, or passive aggressive.
  3. Commands that are resisted are nearly impossible to enforce.  If a child has a mind to ignore commands the subsequent battle will be just about impossible for the adult to win — without resorting to brute force.
  4. Regardless of who wins the battle, ongoing resentment wins the war.

Introducing another way to address bad behavior:  Enforceable Statements!

Enforceable Statements are declarations of realities that are entirely within the control of parents.  Instead of focusing on what the KID must do, you inform them of what YOU are going to do.

Here’s an example,  “At 9 pm, I will be putting all of the toys that are not put away into ‘Toy Jail’, where you may bail them out later if you want.”   Do you see the difference?  Rather than telling the child what to do, the parent is informing the child what the parent will do.  There is nothing to argue about or push back against.

Here’s an example from our home.  We had a family rule that said, “We allow in our home any pet that you completely pay for and take care of.”  (Notice that this rule is also an Enforceable Statement”.)  Lexi, our youngest daughter owned a cat.  The only part of cat ownership she disliked was changing the kitty litter, so you can imagine the potential this had to turn into weekly household battles!  We used the following Enforceable Statement whenever the smell exceeded our acceptable level:  “Lexi, guess what?  Today is kitty litter changing day! If you haven’t changed it by midnight tonight one of us will will be happy to change it for you and reimburse ourselves $3 (for our inconvenience) from your next allowance.”  It worked–she normally got right on it without hesitation.  There were only a few times that she forgot and ended up “hiring” us.  Thankfully, in the 10 years Lexi owned that cat we never had a single battle or a raised voice over cat poop!

A few points about Enforceable Statements.

1. Make them very measurable and clear. “I pay $1 a bag for leaves put in yard bags if done to my satisfaction.”

2. Only give options you’re willing to live with. Don’t say, “I’ll feed you tomorrow if you finish your supper.”

3. Don’t word them as threats, but rather as positive statements and/or rewards.  “I read bedtime stories to kids who treat me with kindness during the day.  Compare the tone of that to “I’m not reading to you because you were so rude to me earlier.”

4. Be gutsy.  The parent must be willing (and courageous enough) to actually enforce what he or she declares.  If a parent says, “I drive kids to soccer practice after school if I felt treated respectfully that morning” then the parent must be willing for the kid to miss practice.  Think long-term:  consistency in your enforcement will make them think twice before behaving badly the next time.

5.  No empty threats. If you make an empty threat that you don’t intend to enforce, the child will quickly figure that out — and leave you helpless forever!  Most of us have seen a parent say to their child in the middle of the mall, “Come over here right now or I’m going to leave without you!”  This is a statement the parent has no intention of enforcing.  Not only does this undermine the parent’s authority, it would undermine a young child’s basic trust and security.

Here are a bunch of examples of Enforceable Statements that I brainstormed for different ages of kids to give you some ideas of how these work in day to day life.  Consider how approaching bad behavior in this way might reduce commanding, scolding and nagging in the home.

Early Childhood

  • I’ll serve your food as soon as you are buckled in your booster seat.
  • I allow children to be at the table as long as they’re not throwing food on the floor.
  • I respond to requests from those who 1. put it in the form of a question, 2. use the word, “Please” and 3. use a pleasant tone of voice.
  • I provide “big girl pants” to children who are potty trained.
  • I close the door when children scream.  I open it when they are quiet.
  • My ears are special — they don’t recognize the sound of whining, so if it seems like I’m not responding to you sometimes, that must be why.
  • The car is leaving in 10 minutes.  You may walk or I can carry you.  You may be dressed or you can go to school in your jammies.
  • I make disappear all toys that are thrown.
  • I give treats to children who share their toys with others.
  • I read TWO stories at bedtime to children who have shown extra kindness to others during the day.
  • Elementary
  • I will pay the babysitter a tip — an “inconvenience fee” — from the allowances of disrespectful children.
  • I charge two dollars a minute to listen to fighting in the car.  You may pay me with cash, confiscated toys, or extra chores.”
  • I will serve supper until 7 pm.  After that you’ll have to wait until breakfast to eat or eat PB&J.
  • I’ll provide you with a meal of my choosing, which you must eat without complaining — if you don’t like what I serve feel free to eat leftovers .  When you cook, I’ll promise not to complain and if I don’t like what you serve I’ll eat leftovers.
  • I don’t allow pets to be mistreated.  If I feel they are being neglected or abused I will find a new home for them.
  • (depending on the kind of pet) I’m giving you complete responsibility for your pets. If you neglect them and they die, it will be your problem and on your conscience.
  • I provide doors to kids who don’t slam them.
  • I provide desserts and sweets to kids who brushed the sugar off of their teeth last night.
  • I’ll be happy to take you shopping as soon as your chores are done to my satisfaction.
  • I’ll wash any clothes that are put in the hamper.
  • I’ll consider any dishes that aren’t rinsed and in the dishwasher to be considered by you to be reusable, so that’s what I’ll use in serving your next meal or beverage.
  • I lend money to those who have collateral.
  • I will match you dollar for dollar for birthday presents you purchase for your friends.
  • We allow kids to have electronic devices as long as they check them in with us each night before bed. We’ll return them in the morning as long as there are no problems.
  • I drive to practice those who behave pleasantly in the car.
  • I made an adjustment to my car.  The gas pedal now only works when there’s LOVE in the car!  I’ll be happy to pull over and read my book if I’m not feeling love.
  • I’ll provide the power cord for the wifi router whenever chores are done to my satisfaction.
  • I’ll pay for sports for those who show good sportsmanship on and off the field.
  • I charge 50 cents a mile for extra driving caused by your negligence.
  • I’ll pay for music lessons for those who practice in between time.
  • I’m going to mow the lawn at 7 pm.  Any toys that are in the yard at that time will either be mowed or sent to “Toy Jail” at my discretion.
  • I’ll enter the parental control password to the cable tv when you’ve finished all your homework.
  • Pre-teens / Teens
  • I’ll listen as soon as your voice is as calm as mine.
  • I’ll be glad to discuss this when I feel I’m being treated respectfully.
  • I pay show choir expenses for those who treat me like a celebrity.
  • I pay sports team expenses for those who treat me like a superstar.
  • I’ll pay for lessons for one thing at a time (sports, music, etc.)
  • I don’t call in excused absences for procrastination.
  • I write school notes that are truthful.  “Lexi is arriving late to school today because apparently she needs more than 4 alarm clocks.”
  • I impound possessions of those who owe me money until the amount is paid. If need be I will sell those items on ebay or at a pawn shop to repay myself what you owe me.
  • I’ll pay you $10 per hour for time you spend diligently working through the Smart Prep (ACT preparation) course.
  • I’ll pay $6 per book report you get done in June, $3.50 for ones done in July; or $2.00 for ones done in August (to combat procrastination)
  • I’ll pay 75% of all your church trip expenses; 50% of all school expenses.
  • I’m happy to help you with homework until 10 pm, after which time I’m going to bed.
  • I provide internet for those who use it responsibly, have accountability software installed, and who provide all passwords.
  • I’ll pay for a phone for you after you’ve first paid for replacement insurance.
  • I’ll allow you to have a smart phone, as long as you report to me any apps you’ve installed, given me a “tour” of them, and provided their passwords to me.
  • I will make random inspections of your apps to verify your trustworthiness, but I promise not to snoop through your private messages unless you give me reason to doubt your truthfulness or your judgment.
  • I’ll install pornography protection software on my own computer and designate your mother to receive reports of my internet use just like I will expect from you.
  • I provide electricity to the rooms of those whose music doesn’t disturb other family members.
  • I provide 10 minutes worth of free hot water.  After that I charge $1 a minute, deducted from your allowance.
  • I allow kids to go out at night who come home when they say they will.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go on solo dates when you’ve convinced me I don’t have to worry about you giving in to physical temptations.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go to school parties when I am convinced you are responsible enough to avoid substance use temptations.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go to a stranger’s house party when their parents have convinced me there won’t be drugs or alcohol present.
  • I will provide dishes to those who properly rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.  Others may purchase their own paper plates, or eat off the tabletop (which will need cleaning afterwards).
  • I’ll let you drive my car by yourself as soon as you’ve paid me a deposit in the amount of our insurance deductible.
  • I’ll be happy to let you use the car as long as you convince me that I don’t have to worry about you using alcohol.
  • I’ll be willing to let you stay out late on a school night as long as I’m convinced it won’t be detrimental to your school performance.
  • I’ll make exceptions to the normal “curfew” when you’ve convinced me there’s a good reason for it and that I don’t have to worry about what you’re doing.
  • Young Adults
  • I’ll help pay for college for those who don’t smoke pot (as determined by random drug testing).
  • I’ll match you dollar for dollar for paying college expenses.
  • I’ll let you live here during your college breaks as long as you abide by my house rules without complaining, which involve keeping me informed of your whereabouts, being respectful, bringing no alcohol onto my property, asking my permission before having friends over, and doing chores or paying rent.
  • Spouse – yes they work with spouses and everyone actually!
  • I consider projects finished only when all the tools and mess are put away. At that time I will demonstrate my thanks to you! xoxoxo
  • I’ll purchase grocery items that are written on the list on the refrigerator.
  • I’ll wash any clothes that are put in the hamper.
  • I’ll iron any shirts that are hung in the laundry room by 8 pm.
  • I’m always happy to kiss lips that aren’t covered up with lipstick.
  • I’m always happy to kiss faces that aren’t prickly.
  • I’m happy to wash dishes that are rinsed and placed in the right hand sink.

I need to credit Love and Logic for introducing me to this concept years ago.

How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded.

child-1160862_640It’s quite simple, really–hardly worth even blogging about.  You pull them aside and you just say these four words, “I don’t need you.”

But feel free to be more creative if you like.

Personally, I prefer using the phrase, “I have no need of you.” Somehow it sounds a little more theatric, yet it accomplishes the same thing.  I’ve used that phrase often with my family over the past 23 years.

If you don’t believe me go ahead and ask them yourself.

Now before you call DHS, indicting me for shattering my girls’ fragile self-esteems, let me explain why we should be telling our family members that we don’t need them.

Here are five reasons why we shouldn’t tell them we need them.

  1. It’s secondary.  It’s much more important to tell them we want them.  I am always clear to communicate “I want you,” “I cherish you,” “I delight in you,” “I enjoy you.” “I like being with you,” etc. — even while using my epic line “I have no need of you.”  These are powerful phrases that communicate that they are desirable, lovable, interesting, and treasured.  They don’t need to be needed, but they do need to be valued.
  2. It’s bad for them.  Making them feel needed, can create an unhealthy sense of co-dependency, where their identity is wrapped up in meeting the expectations of others.  I know many older adults whose entire adult lives were consumed with having to please others to their own detriment.
  3. It’s bad for us.  Viewing a loved one as a “need” of ours might put us in the position of consumer with them being our provider.  It can create high expectations, where our happiness depends on their performance.  This could lead to us using or manipulating others.  Such a “you owe me” attitude is a setup for serious marriage and family conflicts.
  4. It’s a deviation from what is true.  I believe that God is truly our only real need. Everything else is a want.  This truth is the subject of the first of my 40 “Life Resolutions” — everything else that is important rests upon it.  I disagree with Maslow,   If God is truly the giver and sustainer of life and love for this life–as well as for eternity–then we don’t technically need anything else. Period.
  5. It’s a setup for our devastation. When we view our loved ones as “needs”, it sets us up for deep despair and bitterness should we lose them to death, disability, deficiency, or desertion.   Let me expound on each.
  • Death.  We have no guarantees.  Life is fragile.  We live in a fallen, precarious world.  Our family members are mortal.  It’s conceivable that the God who gave us our loved ones could choose to take them away. How would we handle that?  I’ve seen two responses.  Those who see their family members as a “need” that they’ve been robbed of invariably shake their fists at God and descend into a dark tunnel of bitterness.  One dad who lost a son became so bitter that his other sons lost their dad emotionally for the next 10 years.  On the other hand, I’ve seen families lose a child yet praise God for the precious time they had together.  Although they grieved their terrible loss, they were eventually able to press forward knowing that their child’s earthly presence wasn’t something they “needed” in order to be joyful.  In my daily prayers for my family I tell God, “Help me to treasure my family more and more, yet hold them looser and looser.”
  • Disability.  We can probably all think of marriages that dissolved after one spouse became disabled.  A Christ-centered marriage shouldn’t depend on our spouse’s physical prowess or functionality.  “He (or She) didn’t meet my needs” should never be an excuse for splitting up.  That’s not what Christlike, unconditional love is.  “In sickness and in health, till death do us part” is the commitment that was made.  Thankfully, our spiritual disabilities don’t keep Jesus from loving us.
  • Deficiency.  Parents often “need” their children to be star athletes, musicians, performers, scholars, etc.  This then becomes a point of contention when kids don’t live up to their potential.  Parents sometimes derive their own esteem from their kids’ performance or try to live out their own unreached dreams through their kids.  This pressure adds stress to kids’ lives and often builds walls between parents and kids.  If parents stopped “needing” their kids to be something they want, perhaps they could help their kids explore who God made them to be.
  • Desertion.  Kids who abandon the beliefs, values, or lifestyles of their parents can cause devastation for parents who “needed” their kids to stay true to the faith.  These parents often try to scold, nag, or pressure their kids to come back to the fold, which ironically has the opposite effect.  On the other hand, parents whose joy doesn’t depend on their kids’ choices are free to live their own lives.  Though they will certainly remain concerned about their child’s choices and well-being, they don’t lose their own ability to worship, serve God, and take care of themselves.  Ironically their ability to worship God and love others amidst disappointment may be the very thing that influences their kids to come back to the fold.

[Please note that in this article I’m using the word, “need,” in a technical or literal sense.  I recognize that “need” is also commonly used in a more figurative or pragmatic sense, such as, “We need to work together as a team,” or “I need help making supper.”   I take no issue with such “needs”!  Yet I have found it helpful to limit my use of the word “need,” substituting “want” or “would like” whenever possible as a way to ensure I don’t fall into any of the pitfalls listed above.]

Rethinking the proper dating age

At what age should your kids be allowed to date?  It’s a question many parents wonder about.  Here are some of my reflections.

  1. The forbidding of “dating” until a certain age might actually miss the most important issue.  In a world of “hooking up,” “friends with benefits,” and sexting kids might be sexually active without dating.   They might be technically complying with your “no dating” rule, but in reality might be living a reckless lifestyle that jeopardizes their future and misses God’s best for their lives.
  2. Setting a rule about a specific dating age doesn’t mean it will be followed.  I know of several kids who secretly dated behind their parents’ backs — some for years.  These parents had a false sense of security, thinking that they were immune from dating concerns.
  3. Ask yourself: are your rules set for your own peace of mind or your kids’ best interest?
  4. What is it about reaching a particular age that makes kids automatically behave responsibly?  Are they unable to behave responsibly at 15 years 11 months, but instantly become wise and self-controlled on their sixteenth birthday?  Not likely.
  5. Does it communicate: “I won’t trust you at all when you’re 15, but I’ll trust you completely when you’re 16”?  Should that be so?
  6. Do all kids mature at the same rate?   If you’re going to make dating-age rules, shouldn’t they be customized according to the maturity, weaknesses, capabilities, and vulnerabilities of your kids?
  7. Laying down a rule is easy — it allows us to detach ourselves from the more difficult task of engaging our kids’ hearts.
  8. Rather than focus on rules about dating, might it not be better to have conversations with your kids about their feelings about their own sexuality, feelings toward the opposite sex, and their possible desire to date?
  9. One such conversation with them might be to talk about whether teenage dating is even a good idea.  Those of you who know me, know that I’ve blogged extensively about my concerns with teenage dating.  Whether they agree or not, my thoughts on “Friendationship”  might make a good conversation starter.
  10. Might such heart-to-heart conversations between parent and child do more to influence the child’s values and sexual choices than a seemingly arbitrary rule that he or she might find unreasonable?
  11. If you’re going to have a “rule” about dating, how about this one:  I’ll be happy to give you my blessing to date as soon as our conversations convince me why I don’t need to worry about your ability to resist temptation and make wise sexual choices.


Why I don’t want your kids doing their best in school!

girl bookSchool begins today for most students so let me take this occasion to say that I don’t want your son or daughter doing their best this year.

I’m not joking.  I mean exactly that.  I want your student to be doing less than his or her best.

Too often parents push their kids to always do their very, very  best.  The reasons for this range from good (“I want my kids to be successful”) to bad (“My kid is a reflection of my good parenting”) to worse (“My child is going to meet my unfulfilled childhood dreams”).

The effect on these kids will likely be stress and resentment toward their parents as they feel constantly prodded onto the performance treadmill.

This expectation for them to always do their very, very best is unrealistic — and here’s the rub:  it’s a standard to which we can’t even hold ourselves!

Here’s why — it’s unrealistic.   No one can simultaneously do their best all the time in every area of their life.  We are complex, multi-dimensional creatures with varying roles and responsibilities.  I can’t be the best possible youth pastor at the same time as being the best possible husband, at the same time as being the best possible dad, at the same time as being the best possible neighbor, friend, church member, citizen, gardener, trumpet player, runner, volunteer, disciple of Jesus, etc.  Something’s gotta give!  Perfection in one area only occurs at the expense of all the others.

Think about it:  if we nag, push, and prod our kid to be the best possible student he could be, he’s going to end up being a negligent friend, an inattentive neighbor, a distracted employee, an absent youth group member, and a prayerless, Bibleless Christian.  Is that really what we want our kids to be?  I say, no.

I can anticipate the push back, “But Mark, we’re called to excellence!  We can’t allow our kids to get away with doing shoddy work.”  I’m not advocating laziness or sloppiness.  I’m all for excellence, but the reality is that it can’t be maintained in all fields simultaneously.  These areas compete for our time and will always be in tension with one another.  We must seek balance.

To insist they always do their best will lead to anxiety or burnout and will deprive them of having the margin in their life needed to enjoy their childhood.

So what’s the answer?   Stop demanding your kids to do their best.  Instead, just expect them to do the things that are reasonable (given all their roles, responsibilities and capabilities). Ultimately the question is, “Given your present circumstances, how is God nudging you to reasonably divvy up your limited amounts of time and energy?”

This standard of doing what’s reasonable instead of doing what’s best lifts us right off the performance treadmill.  Here are some examples:

  • Let’s say my daughter got a D- on the pop quiz because she was up late encouraging her suicidal friend instead of reading the assigned chapter.  Wasn’t it reasonable for her to get a D- considering the way she followed God’s prompting to serve.  Yes!  In fact I’ll applaud her for choosing a D- over an A.   After all, what matters more, the teacher’s report card or God’s?
  • Your son senses God prompting him to skip two weeks of school to go on a missions trip.  It means he’ll be kicked out of show choir and drop a letter grade in every class, forfeiting his valedictorian status.   Commend him for choosing what is a reasonable sacrifice for the Lord.
  • Your daughter’s teachers piled on 6 hours of homework the same night that she had committed to serve a meal at a homeless shelter.  She chooses to keep her commitment, leaving her only 2 of the 6 study hours.  She subsequently flunks a test the next day.   Did she do her best at school?  No.  Did she do what was reasonable?  Absolutely!

Bottom line:  never insist your kids do their best.  You — and they — will find much freedom by expecting them — and yourself — to do no more than what is reasonable.

The surprising lesson I learned from Lexi’s trip to Italy.

Lexi in ItalyOver Spring Break Lexi went to Northern Italy with the UNI Wind Symphony.   She had a wonderful time playing the saxophone which she loves, getting to know her bandmates, and enjoying a new part of the world she’d never seen.

Her social role within the band quickly became that of a cheerleader.  Whenever enthusiasm would wane or boredom would creep in Lexi would pipe up, “Guys, guess what!  WE’RE in ITALY!  Aren’t you EXCITED!!” and that would return everyone’s focus to the amazing reality of their situation.

Lexi was simply reminding her friends of a truth that they already knew but had lost sight of.  Any instances of boredom or lackluster attitudes were merely the result of forgetting what an awesome place they were in.  Her animated reminders brought them back to reality and quickly helped them regain their excitement.

I think we need a similar reminder when it comes to our relationship to God.  It’s easy for our devotional life to become mundane and boring.  Why?  Because just like Lexi’s bandmates we’ve forgotten the amazing reality of our situation and we need to be reminded of what’s true.


I’ve been contemplating this ever since Lexi shared about her trip and it has surprisingly transformed my approach to God.

What if I actually started living out what I know to be true?  What if I started to view spending time with God in the same way I would if I was being invited to have breakfast with a celebrity?  Would I hit the snooze button five more times if a head of state was waiting for me at my breakfast table?  Wouldn’t I go to bed early the night before if I had a breakfast appointment with a famous person, and if I were to wake up in the night wouldn’t I be counting the hours?  Wouldn’t I be excited when my alarm went off, no matter how early it was?  Wouldn’t sluggishness and boredom be unthinkable?  Wouldn’t I view my time with this celebrity as a humbling privilege rather than a chore?

By reflecting on such questions over the past months I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my early morning times with God more than ever before.  There have been many mornings when I have bounded out of bed to spend some quality time getting to know God deeper through His Word and prayer.

But it’s easy to forget what’s true.

And so just as Lexi’s enthusiasm reminded her bandmates of what they knew to be true, may this blog post remind you and me of what a privilege it is to be invited to meet each day with the Creator of the universe.

Lexi italy



Why I want your kids to fail.

woman-1006100_640I want your kids to fail.

I want them to lose their library book.

I want them to forget their lunch.

I want your kids to oversleep and miss their first two classes.

I want them to get their bike stolen because they didn’t lock it.

I want them to miss the bus and be in a dilemma.

I want them to spill their hot chocolate all over the carpet.

I want them to fall asleep in class because they wasted their evening and went to bed too late.

I want your kids’ pet fish to die because they didn’t feed it.

I want them to feel sick because they ate too much candy.

I want them to forget to do their chores and have to repay whoever did them.

I want your kids to get an embarrassing grade on the history project into which they put little effort.

I want them to waste their allowance money on junk so they can’t buy something really valuable.

I hope they lock all three sets of keys inside their car so they have to call AAA for help.

I want kids to wear smelly clothes because they didn’t put them in the laundry basket in time.

I want them to be ticked off — at themselves.

I want us to have no cups on the spring retreat because the seniors forgot to pack them.

I want the junior class to incur $100.18 in late fees because they were two days late in returning their Star Wars costumes.

I want them to fail because I love them.  And you should too.


Parents spend far too much effort and emotion trying to keep their kids from failing.  I’m the opposite.  I actually hope for my kids to fail!

Remember, our goal as parents is to for our kids to learn to manage their own lives and make wise decisions — without our intervention.  After all, the goal of parenting is to raise adults, not children.  They become more like adults the more we treat them like adults.


Give them high levels of responsibility.

  • As our kids age we need to give them increased responsibilities and control over their lives. They’ll need to be responsible for their time, sleep, leisure activities, finances, clothes, sports and music practice and performance, academic achievements, grades, entertainment, friends, and food choices.  I’m not saying we can’t set acceptable parameters in some of these areas — that is our parental prerogative while they’re living with us — but we need to remember that unless they’ve learned to manage these areas completely by themselves, they are ill prepared for life.  We shouldn’t even think about sending them off to college if we’re the ones still managing those areas of their lives.
  • I favor giving kids high levels of responsibility.  See my post on chores  for example.  It honors them to be deemed worthy of great responsibility.


Let them fail miserably.

  • When they are freely allowed to fail in their responsibilities they learn important things about their own weakness, vulnerabilities, and needs.  From the natural consequences of their failures they learn what they ought to do differently in the future.  They learn how to avoid the same pitfalls the next time around.  They learn how to fix what they break. They learn they are capable of cleaning up their own messes.  They gain self-confidence as they discover that they are able to repair the damage they caused.  Failure is a key way for them to learn who they are and how best to manage their own lives.
  • If they are allowed to fail early, when the stakes are small, they will have learned to manage themselves well and avoid failure in the future when the stakes will be very high.
  • (Obviously there are some failures we can’t in good conscience allow them to make due to safety or moral concerns, but these should few in number.)


What to do when they fail.

  • Don’t make their problem yours.  Let them fix it or deal with it themselves.  Be a consultant if needed, but let them make things right.
  • Relax and enjoy that they are learning hard, but valuable lessons as they fix their problems.  But just don’t let your enjoyment show!
  • Don’t moralize or say “I told you so.”  Let the consequences of their own failure be their teacher.  Let them be mad at themselves only, not you.
  • Show empathy, and offer your confidence in their ability to fix it.
  • Neither rescue them, nor berate them for failing.  Either would rob them of dignity and cause resentment between you.


A story.

I’ll close with a story from our home.  At one point when one of our daughters was in high school getting up in the morning was a problem for her. It may have had something to do with her tendency to waste time in the evening, procrastinate her homework, get to bed ridiculously late, and then have trouble hearing her alarm clock in the morning.  Cindy and I decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to make getting up her responsibility instead of ours.  From now on she would need to get herself up in the morning and get herself off to school on her own.

When her alarm went off that next morning, Cindy and I laid in our bed and did nothing.  It was hard to do, but we resisted the temptation to rescue her.  Lexi was late to school that day.  And that wasn’t the only day she would oversleep!

But we decided that this was Lexi’s problem.  If it caused her embarrassment to walk in late — that would be her social problem.  If being late would jeopardize her grades it would be her academic problem — she’d have to work that out with the school.  Well it didn’t take her too many weeks to figure out how to adjust her lifestyle and alarm clock placement so as to get herself to school on time, which she did for the rest of her high school career. The way she learned to overcome her failure gave us all great confidence that for the rest of her life she’ll be able to get herself where she needs to be on time!  And she has!

That’s why I want your kids to fail.

Remembering Michelle Pinkston: 10 years later.

Michelle Pinkston

It’s hard to believe that ten years ago today we lost one of the godliest, artistically talented, and servant-hearted young women to ever emerge from our youth group.  She was unexpectedly killed in a car accident on Highway 30 the day before she would have graduated from Iowa State University.  I’ll never forget hearing that devastating news on that fateful day.

Her life continues to impact those she left behind through her art and her legacy of faithful service.   Here’s a photo album of the art that was displayed at her memorial service

The art gleaned from her sketchbooks now graces the preschool hallways of our church, reminding us continually of this life well lived.

The lessons she taught me 10 years ago still affect me today.  We miss you, Michelle!


Below is an edited transcript of what I shared at Michelle’s memorial service.

I had the privilege of being Michelle’s youth pastor for her 7 years of Middle School and High School.

Michelle’s death affected me deeply. I was devastated when I heard the news and overwhelmed with personal sadness. The moment I heard the news on Friday I realized how much of my life was touched by hers.

During the seven years of youth group and subsequent years being away at college, I grew to love, respect and appreciate Michelle. Her faith was strong and she kept it strong by being actively involved with other believers in this church.

We made a lot of memories together. Weekly youth group times, retreats and summer trips to New Orleans, Toronto, Mexico. She was such a blessing to our group.

And her faith and impact on others continued on in college.

She talked to me last fall about hoping to help out with the youth group after graduation and I was very excited about that. She planned to help lead a girls’ Bible study and use her artistic talents to spice up the group. But as we know, God had plans for Michelle we didn’t know about.

Since I work with students all the time, I’d like to say a few words to Michelle’s classmates both from Kennedy and ISU. I watched you Sunday night and yesterday and today and I was touched by your expressions of love and sorrow at her loss. I noticed that some of you share Michelle’s faith and so today is full of hope for you. Some of you though, haven’t yet found the hope and assurance she had. Yesterday one of her old Kennedy classmates shared with me how Michelle’s sudden, unexpected death filled her with terror. As I told her, it doesn’t have to be that way. Michelle loved this life, but she longed for heaven even more. Death to her was not about personal loss, but rather personal gain—the place where real life begins…

Whatever your experience, don’t, don’t miss the fact that what Michelle and her family have shown us is genuine Christianity and it works! Their personal faith in Jesus provides the only real answers for the ultimate questions we will all face regarding life, death, and meaning…

I was her youth pastor and I suppose I taught her a lot of things over those seven years, yet I’m sure she taught me more than I ever taught her.

Her life taught me.

  • How to live a full, joyous, abundant life.
  • She used her talents fully. Creativity reflects God’s creativity.
  • She positively impacted others—grade school thru college shared at the vigil.
  • She consistently lived what she believed.
  • She dreamed of and longed for heaven, her real home.


Her death taught me a lot too.

  • It reminded me of the preciousness of others. We forget how much we mean to others. Since Friday I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’ve begun telling people how precious they are to me. I’ve observed relationships being made, rekindled, and restored as this has reminded us of what’s really important.
  • Always be ready for eternity. This will determine our priorities.
  • Finish well with no regrets. That’s why someone was able to say: “This is the happiest funeral I’ve ever been to.”

Michelle loved children’s books. I want to close by reading a passage from the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”

J. Warner Wallace urges, “Send your teens to Summit!”

J Warner WallaceThis morning our New Covenant church family was captivated by J. Warner Wallace, who gave compelling evidence for God’s existence.  If you missed it, I hope you’ll watch the video.

At the end of his message, he gave a passionate charge to parents, adjuring them to send their teens this summer to the two-week Summit Conference!  He urged us to fill our bus!

What is Summit?  Rather than explain it,  click here to watch a video that shows you what it’s all about.

From personal experience, Cindy and I are so grateful that both of our girls attended Summit while they were in high school. Their experiences there adequately prepared them for the spiritual, intellectual, moral, and cultural challenges they would face at the state universities they attended.  Their faith was significantly bolstered by what they learned from their Summit experiences.

Professionally speaking — from my 23 years as a youth pastor at New Covenant — I’ve seen firsthand that college is a pivotal time where faith is either strengthened or abandoned altogether. That’s why we encourage all of our students to attend Summit before and/or during college to fully prepare them for life.

Obviously there is a cost to this two-week training, which pays for housing, food, materials, and face-time with some of best Christian thinkers, authors, and apologists from all over the world.  But I don’t think of it as a cost — Summit is an investment!  New Covenant offers some scholarships (and transportation to one of the sessions) because we think it’s so important. We hope parents and others will also consider investing in this important training.

Three important notes for those interested in going this summer:

  1. The early-bird price for Summit ended on March 31st, but Summit has made a special arrangement with our Intelligent Faith Conference to extend the early bird deadline until April 23.  If anyone registers for Summit using the coupon code “IntelligentFaith2016” they  will get that $200 discount!
  2. New Covenant is providing free bus transportation to anyone from the Cedar Rapids area to who wishes to attend Summit’s “Tennessee Session #1” (July 3-16.)  There are 9 other sessions to choose from as well, but note that we only provide transportation to this session.  Be sure to register for Tennessee #1 if you want to go with our group.  This transportation offer is also open to people from other local churches, but people must contact me to reserve a spot on our bus.
  3. If you regularly attend New Covenant and want information about New Covenant’s Summit scholarship (applicable to any session of Summit, not just Tennessee #1) contact me.


If you have any questions, I’d love to discuss this with any of you!

Summit interviewed me in this professionally-made video, asking why New Covenant makes it such a priority to send our students to Summit.  Enjoy!

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2017

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑