Monday, April 30, 2012

Life Lessons From My Kids

I'm a seasonal reader. I go through spurts of devouring books and then I put them down for a bit. Even if it's a terrible read, I force myself to finish a book that I start. This makes little sense outside of my own discipline. I can't force myself to move to an electronic reader, I appreciate hard copy books. I am currently reading books on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Wooden. In my youth, I used to read fiction. Now, I'm almost exclusively a reader of non-fiction books - mostly those on faith, life, and business or the interweaving of the three. I read these books, make notes, and discuss with others. Some have made an impact on my daily life. However, I'm often reminded that some of the greatest life lessons can be learned from children. Luckily, I have two boys to teach me great things. Recently, I've been enlightened to three principles integral to living life well, each taught to me by children.

On a recent spring afternoon, my two boys and I were walking through the parking lot, heading to the store. Brady, our four-year-old, stopped and said that he needed to go back to the car to get something. We circled back and opened the car. Brady crawled into the vehicle and came out wearing his bright orange construction goggles. He climbed out of the car and started again toward the store.

Me: "Why did you get those, Brady?"
Brady: "I wanted to wear them into the store."
Older Brother: "I don't think that you want to wear them in there, Brady, people will see you."
Brady: "I don't care, I like them."

We need to care much less about what people think of us and, instead, live life full, happy. If you're inclined to wear bright orange construction goggles into the store, then wear them proudly. Kirk Franklin said, "You want to be great? Stop trying to be liked."

If you haven't seen the You Tube video of Caine's Arcade yet, take ten minutes and watch it. This young man built an elaborate cardboard arcade in his father's used auto parts garage. I won't spoil the story, but in short, Caine never gets discouraged and builds his dream with a smile no matter the circumstance. Author Seth Godin commented, "The goal wasn't to be accepted, that goal was to do it right."

Our oldest son, Carson, frequently reminds us of the profound idea of deep trust highlighted in Psalm 56:3. The Psalmist writes, "When I am afraid, I will trust in You." Carson drew a word picture of this verse that hung on our refrigerator for some time. I took a photo of his picture that I keep on my phone as a daily reminder. Carson uses this verse to sustain him through anxious times and encourages his mother and me when our days spiral chaotic. As adults, we muddy up the middle too often seeking complex solutions to stress mitigation. Carson's childlike faith calls us to stop, clear our minds, and know that our fears, anxieties, and worries are best alleviated when our trust is rooted in something bigger than ourselves. The Biblical narrative repeatedly calls us to "fear not" and, in turn, "trust." Most self-help books often end up in a similar place: step out of ourselves, hold onto something deeper, and trust. The Psalmist knew the shelter to life's storms isn't built by our own hands, but in trusting the Hands that hold us all. Carson knows this too.

Many times we pass through our days without stopping to appreciate the showers of blessings and gifts that are all around us. Last week, Brady missed a day of pre-school with a headache and a slight fever. He slept most of the day. The next morning, the pitter patter of little feet on wooden steps woke us. As Brady came down the stairs, he called for us. "Mom, Dad..." he said. "You know that head hurt that I had yesterday, it's almost gone!" The fact that he was feeling just a bit better had him wildly excited about the opportunities to play that he would now be able to embrace. He was marveled and amazed about the healing process of our bodies. He was thankful. Lisa Bergren writes, "Every morning when we wake, we choose to encounter the day as something to be survived or something to be welcomed. On this day I choose joy (laughter)." Brady could have opened his eyes to the day frustrated that remnants of a headache remained. Instead, he chose cart- wheeling joy that the headache was almost gone.

There are many lessons to be learned from children, if only we have eyes to see them. Live life full and happy, giving much less regard to what others think. Replace fear with trust, understanding these life stories are best written when they're about something bigger than us. And, be joyfully thankful, choosing an attitude of hope each day. These are meaningful lessons I've learned from my children. May they be undercurrents in your lives, lived well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mentoring Matters.

In high school I had an English course with a mild-mannered teacher. At the beginning of class we had a brief, five-question quiz to ensure that we were keeping up with assigned reading. Being the first week of school, my friends and I were much more concerned about positioning ourselves in the appropriate social structures of high school than diving into classic literature. In turn, the answers I listed on the quiz read something like this, Q: What main character were we introduced to in the opening chapters of The Scarlet Letter? A: Dr. Suess. After reviewing the quizzes at his desk, the teacher softly asked me and a few others to step outside. In a matter-of-fact and forcefully clear tone, he said that he did not intend to waste any more of our time or his, so he directed us to go to the Guidance Office and sign up for another English course, one in which we could coast through without the expectations he would demand. I pleaded to stay in his course and, thankfully, he obliged with the qualification that there would be no tolerance for a cavalier approach to his course. In addition to teaching me English, he taught me a much-needed lesson about expectation, accountability, and the experience of learning.

According to the YMCA of the USA, one out of every three children in the U.S. lives without his or her biological father. [Consequently,]… studies show that kids who grow up without a father in the home, on average, may face greater struggles and may be more likely to live in poverty or be incarcerated (Nock and Einolf 2008).

I have a friend leading a large ministry. Years ago, as someone just stepping into career opportunities, I requested a meeting with this ministry leader, hoping to draw from his experience and wisdom. Over the course of the next 7 years, he has met with me every single time that I've asked him to and an important friendship has developed. In spite of the many demands from his work and life, he has made time to invest in my life and I'm a better person because of his investment.

Youth from fatherless homes account for: 63 percent of youth suicides, 71 percent of pregnant teenagers, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children, 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions, 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison, 85 percent of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders, 80 percent of rapists motivated with displaced anger, 71 percent of high school dropouts, and 75 percent of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers. (“The Future: Set Adrift on a Sea of Fatherless Children,” Idaho Observer, July 2003. As quoted in: Sowers, John. “Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story.” (Zondervan, 2010).

Steve, a Youth Outreach and Day Camp Director at the Y, recently held an informational meeting to recruit volunteers for a new youth program. I was intrigued as half of those attending were former campers or counselors of Steve's programs. As I asked them why they were volunteering, they said that Steve had invested in their lives in significant ways and that they just wanted to give something back to him.

Whether done formally or informally, mentoring is an opportunity to change history, to re-write the story of a generation. Mentors will be the quiet heroes of this movement. Studies have shown that one-to-one mentoring, done over time, transforms the lives of both the mentor and mentee. Mentors matter. (The Mentoring Project Field Manual,

I recently talked with a Y staff person who told me that she was excited to finally have the opportunity to work at Camp Thompson as a resident camp counselor. In the past, she has volunteered her time to serve in counselor leadership training programs in preparation for her full-time role. I asked her why she had given so much volunteer time to prepare for a seasonal position. She said that she had attended Y camps ever since she was 7 and as a new camper, the Youth and Camp Thompson Director, Justin, had bought her a slushy when she was having a bad day. "That was really nice," she said, "and it made me stay." Now, she wants to return that favor of kindness to someone new.

The impact of investing in the life of another often isn't quantifiable, yet it's significant. If you are mentoring another person and you are faithfully loving, modeling, and coaching your impact might not be immediately measurable; however, you are making a profound difference(The Mentoring Project Field Manual,

When I was in college, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn't sure if she'd survive and I was too scared to go home and visit. Instead, I went to a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting. We played basketball and at the end, I shared my request for prayer. The leader said that he'd give me a ride back to my apartment. I don't know his name, but I know that he cared about my situation and I know that he prayed for my mom, who is still living today.

Historically, mentoring has been a primary form of education. In the article, "Change of Course" (World Magazine, April 21, 2012), Andree` Seu writes, "Before seminaries had endowments, a young man would attach himself to a country pastor, read the man's books, and follow him on his parish visiting circuit. It was not considered a substandard education, but real discipling of the younger in faith by one older."

I was lucky enough to have a father who was invested in my life. He taught me life lessons of commitment, perseverance, discipline, and faith. I've been amazingly blessed to have countless others invest in my life who have given me the opportunity to reflect and redirect. They've taught me that it doesn't matter how far you fall, but that you get back up again. Andree` Seu says, "It is not how many miles you've traveled since you turned your ship around. It's that you're headed in the right direction and you know where home is."

Those without a father in their lives face a great challenge. They need others to come alongside to help orient the ship. They need navigational support. You can do this. We can help others rewrite their stories. Formally, you can contact the Y (, Big Brothers Big Sisters (, or your local church to find out how you might support a youth in need. Informally, you simply need to look around. Divine opportunities surround us daily to invest in the lives of others. As you look for them, you'll soon see them in abundance. Seize these moments. They matter.