Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Parenting For Dummies

I was snuggling Chaia to bed last night. The custom is that she demands mom or dad lay next to her in a bed we don't fit in, she plays with our face in the dark and says, "tell me about my day, daddy" and so we reflect on everything.

Last night as we're rehearsing some of this evening ritual, there is a search helicopter flying back and forth on our street and the surrounding neighborhood. This seems to be about a monthly occurrence. Probably looking for someone in the shadows.

I grew up in a pretty rural part of Ohio, equal population of cows and people. To be sure there were typical small town dramas. But I don't recall any search helicopters.

To be clear, we live in an incredibly safe neighborhood in Columbus, but it's a city and the reality is that there are some inherent risks with residing in a city.

One friend had his car window broken and his laptop/iPad stolen at noon, broad daylight, in a high traffic area of campus.

Another friend got struck by a car while walking.

Forget violence.

Just think about the environment of city schools. There is no way to control or protect what your kid learns or experiences at school. From inappropriate words and behavior, to bullying and being bullied to pressures on self-image. Sure these are real things in every context, but they seem more magnified in the city.

As the helicopter circles around for the 3rd or 4th time, I start to think about my desire to protect Chaia from this stuff. She's a fun and innocent kid (though sometimes we worry more about what she'll teach other kids than what other kids will teach her!) The day will come when she gets her feelings hurt at school. The day will likely come when she will see a classmate pass away. The day will come when a boy will try something or say something inappropriate to her that will steal innocence or heighten insecurity. (Stupid boys!)

And this tug at my heart strings left me saying "I need to protect my kid." Her sweetness needs sheltered, her innocence needs preserved. Is she safe in this house? Should we be in the city? Should she go to that school?

And then? The moment of clarity.

The still small voice whispering loudly.

I'm not called to protect my kid.

I'm called to parent my kid.

If anything has been revealed through Chaia's story, it's that even if I wanted to protect her, I can't. I can't prevent a spontaneous mutation in utero that resulted in the double recessive mutation that gave Chaia a heart attack and 5 days to live and brittle bones, a messed up heart and a pseudo tumor . I can't protect her from life. Life is going to happen.

We're not called protectors. We're called parents.

My sister is a teacher in another state. She's a good one too. She told me about a student who had clearly botched an assignment, hadn't paid any attention to the instructions and because of it, got a D on the assignment. The parents came in and asked for a do that the kid could get a better grade and get the A on the report card. My sister said the grade was what it was. Then the parents wanted options for extra credit and basically said, "how do we get the A we want for our kid?" My sister responded that her role as a teacher was not only to teach curriculum but to teach life lessons and this was an opportunity to teach a lesson. If you put forth "D" effort, you get a "D"...not a do over...a "D".

Part of parenting is letting it all hit the fan so that your child(ren) can understand life values and consequences and grace and love.

Sure, I can move to the suburbs, the safest schools or even pull Chaia out of school altogether. I can put a helmet on her when she rides a bike, when she rides in the car, when she rides in the grocery cart. If she goes to touch the oven, I can chase her and protect her from touching something hot, until it becomes a game and I protect her 47 times in 5 minutes.

But at some point, maybe the call to parent is to let her fall with training wheels let her touch the oven and understand "HOT" for herself.

Sometimes I wonder if our "PROTECT AT ALL COSTS" parenting approach has screwed up our kids to be the most entitled generation and the most over-sensitive, thin-skinned generation in history.

Sometimes I wonder if this approach has screwed up our view of God too. It seems whenever something hard or painful comes along, God's goodness and faithfulness and nearness are all called into question. "God, you're supposed to put my helmet and knee pads on so I don't get hurt. How could you let this happen to me?"

So you can grieve over what happened to your kiddo the other day at school. You can go on continual quests for justice or better supervision or repercussions for other kids. You can vow to never let it happen again. You can pull them out of environments in the name of protection. You can shelter and preserve innocence. You can exhaust yourself in preventing life from happening to your kids.

Or you can parent.

Because life is going to happen.

And you protecting your kids is a myth.

The best lessons I've learned have been through adversity and hardship, not comfort and security.

Perhaps parenting through the hard stuff rather than seeking to protect from the hard stuff is the best way to disciple your kids and change the world.

Chaia will go to Columbus schools. And she will see and hear and experience things that are going to be less than stellar.

And how we parent, teach, and talk about those things will make all the difference.

What do you think?

*Note this is not an indictment on suburbia or homeschooling. It is merely an encouragement that if you've chosen those things primarily to "protect" your kids, you should reconsider.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Failure and Grace

I was 16 and I had just found out that the things that I had built as my foundation, namely success and approval, were crumbling.

I had lived recklessly and it caught up with me and hurt a number of people along the way.

And I remember having to go and tell my grandparents the news. My grandpa was a pastor. My grandma by his side in the ministry for as long as I could remember.

And there I was, with my tail between my legs, letting them down.

I told them the hard news and they wept.

It was official...


It was bad enough to admit it to myself...almost unbearable to admit it to my grandparents. I felt more than disappointed. I was a disappointment.

But it was around that time that I experienced a deep encounter with a God who looked beyond...beyond my failure and shame...beyond the facade of success and validation...and saw the potential in my life for redemption and beauty and purpose. The mixture of torment and hope was both confusing and liberating to my soul.

I cannot explain the encounter, other than to say the depth of my immense, consuming shame was shallow compared to the depth of His intoxicating, relentless grace. And I found myself interacting with a God I didn't believe in.

In the midst of failure, grace.

Jesus came near.

And I was baptized not too long after that.

In the pool in the backyard...

of my grandparents house...

by my grandpa.

He was clear in his instructions that I should not "fight him" during the baptism, but instead just relax and let him baptize me. So I did as instructed and a little bit of my grandpa's frailty combined with my special affinity for food left me under the water for a period of time that seemed longer than wise, so I finally assisted in bringing myself out of the water.

And the trajectory of my life changed forever, mostly because my failure was trumped by His grace, and perhaps slightly because of the near death experience I had during my baptism!

Fast forward nearly 10 years and I preached a message at the church I was serving in and my grandparents had come to the church to hear it. At the end of the message, I was assisting in serving communion and got to serve my grandparents and my grandpa came up, walker and all and he was weeping again.

He reached out over his walker and hugged me, while I tried to figure out what to do with the loaf of bread in my hands.

And through tears he said repeatedly, "I claim you...I claim you."

And the place that had brought such sadness and disappointment and failure was redeemed by the Gospel of grace. Tears of heartache replaced with tears of joy.

Failure replaced with Grace.

Pain replaced with healing.

Drowning in pain and disappointment replaced with (nearly drowning!) in baptism and new life.

And the lesson I've learned in the ups and the downs is that your failure can be His triumph, if you'll only have eyes to see.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

People or Pawns

I remember it well. We were early on in planting City Campus Church. And we had a cookout at a park and met some folks. We hit it off with a family that was there. I have a unique 6th sense that can read people pretty accurately and I sensed that the family was Mormon.

It was either the 6th sense or the fact that all 6 of them had Utah shirts on and the kids were the most well behaved kids at the park.

But we hit it off and ended up having dinner with the parents a few weeks later. And Shaina and I were pretty sure they were Mormon and wouldn't be interested in planting C3 with us but we were hopeful there could be friendship.

We got to the restaurant and exchanged pleasantries and inevitably the "what do you" conversation came up and I shared that I was a church planter pastor. And the rest of the night turned into what I can best describe as a Mormon apologetic. Whatever evangelism training they'd ever received, they began to implement in hopes of converting us to their faith.

In an instant, we became an agenda.

To be fair...if they started asking questions about C3, we wouldn't have withheld our story and an invitation to join what God was doing...but I remember very distinctly leaving that meal with a bad taste in my mouth about being viewed as a project or a pawn rather than a person.


Church Planting has been a blast. I feel like at the moment of being hired, a list of 563 tasks was unleashed that needed to be accomplished. My specific wiring is all about tasks, so this process has hit a sweet spot for me. Do this. Accomplish that. Knock this out. Finish these. Have an agenda and git r dun.

What happened from there was that ever so subtly, all my relationships became tied to cost-benefit analysis. If they could help us, I'd invest. If we could help them, I'd invest. And every meeting, every connection, every get together was packed with purpose and plan. If someone did not seem interested in helping us tell the story, their value decreased. Of course I would never say that out loud, or perhaps even think it. But I communicated it with the access I gave them, the relational equity I'd give (or not give out).

The thing that made me an effective church planter was the thing that subtly and toxically was stealing my soul.

Every relationship I had was filled with agenda.

Could they be a leader? Could they serve on a Celebration Team? How do I challenge them? How can I encourage him? How can I pray for her?

And the startling realization was that the way I viewed the world was the way I viewed my relationship with God.

Transaction. He scratches my back. I'll scratch His. I even operated under the auspices of God's agenda...His kingdom...and thought that I could justify my role as the King's servant. And felt perfectly satisfied maintaining this role.

The kicker? Churches hire people who are really good at this. If you can get stuff done and accomplish tasks and reach goals and make the dream become a reality, you're going to get hired to grow the thing, launch the thing or revitalize the thing. Church world (too much like business world) thrives off agenda and transaction.

The pressure that this generates is immense. And it dawned on me that treating people as pawns (even God's pawns) was stealing from them the essence of their humanity.

We weren't meant to merely be servants. We are called to be sons.

We weren't meant to only do. We are called to radically be.

This shift has saved my life.

It's ok just to be. To enjoy company. To delight in friendship. To meet someone and get nothing done. It's ok to just sit in God's presence and not ask for anything or report on duties.

It might be even more than ok. It might be the way to life.

It's a better way.

I'm living proof.