My Children are not Accessories

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I have never been fond of accessories. I don’t carry a “man bag” or whatever they call it these days. Watches drive me crazy. In all honesty having that chain, band, etc wrapped around my wrist feels like I am suffocating. Speaking of suffocating, I cannot wear a necklace either. I can hardly stand to wear a tie, I certainly don’t want something else draped around my neck. And much to my wife’s disappointment, I have a hard time wearing my wedding band. I am not ashamed of being married to her. It is just having something that isn’t a part of me constricting my finger drive me crazy. For the most part I don’t have a problem with other people enjoying them. If my wife wants to wear earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, etc., more power to her.

This week I was reminded of one accessory that does bother me. It bothers me more than any other. I was reminded that some people view their children as an accessory. So that you can understand what I mean by that, let me first explain what an accessory is. Webster’s defines it as an object or device not essential in itself but adding to the beauty, convenience or effectiveness of something else. I am firmly convinced that there are people in the world that believe their children exist to benefit their own status in a community, situation, etc. And it saddens me deeply.

My children are not here to enhance my beauty. Yes, I have four children. But, I have never thought for one instance that my wife and I appear to be better parents that others because we have children. I have never thought that I was a better person because I have kids and others do not. This might sound a bit “extreme” but there are TV shows and movies that make light of those that do. These “jokes” wouldn’t exist if there was not at least some truth to have some people view their children’s “enhancement” of their own personal beauty.

My children are not here to make my life more convenient. I know that sounds weird. Anyone with four kids can attest to the fact that what is convenient goes right out the window. However, if we consider what is convenient is nothing more than making some easier, more accessible, etc there are certainly situations where this happens. For instance, I love football. At one time, my dream was to play in the NFL. I wanted to be that guy crushing the dreams of others as I run over running backs, quarterbacks and hitting wide receivers do hard they wouldn’t dare run their route into my zone. I wanted to be the most feared middle linebacker in the NFL. Obviously, that didn’t work out. For many fathers (and mothers) the live vicariously through their children. It is more “convenient” to have your children chase your dream rather than giving up on your dream. I remember talking to one girl in high school that hated being a pitcher. (She was good, she was really good). She told me how hard she trained, how often she trained. She also told me she wished that he father didn’t push her so hard. It got me thinking, whose dream was it for her to be the best pitcher in the state? Was it her dream or her fathers. Based upon the games I have attended through the years, there are a lot of dads out there trying to either relive their glory days (or to pretend they actually had them) through their sons. While one of my boys dreams of playing in the NFL. I will let that be his dream. He is his own person, and I refuse to let him be my accessory.

My children are not here to make me more effective. This is the actually instance that prompted the writing of this article. I have seen divorce happen far too often among people my age. I have seen people married with children use their children to get back at their spouses. While I realize that I cannot know way judge the intentions of the hearts of others, their actions make me wonder if they are doing what they are doing to their own kids because it makes hurting the ex that much easier. As a preacher I have heard it said that the best way to assure I don’t lose my job is to make certain people get attached to my kids. My kids are not an accessory to make me more effective at keeping my job!

My kids need much more attention that an accessory that can be tossed aside at the end of the day. I hope your kids aren’t either.

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Living in a Fishbowl

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My children love animals. I honestly believe that they enjoy going to zoos and aquariums more so than any other place. The joy they feel is written across their faces. They run from exhibit to exhibit longing to see the next exciting creature. As I look across the exhibits I sometimes see myself in these creatures. Here they are being looked at day after day. Sure, some of them have the ability to hide themselves from the world (a rock, a cave, and indoor dwelling). Others however spend their entire lives with people watching. Take a fish for instance. In an aquarium there is no hiding place. Everywhere they turn it is open to view. It is for these creatures I catch myself humanizing them. How would I feel if people were gawking at my every day… all day.

The reality is, as a preacher that is often what is happening. Paul once wrote, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (I Tim. 4:12).  We are supposed to be an example to others.  In a church without elders we often become THE example.  But, I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind here.  I think what Paul was saying is that a whatever Timothy does, make certain  he is exemplary.  In what he says, in what he does, he is to provide a good example.  All too often we take this to mean that everyone is supposed to be looking, judging and ready to strike if the preacher fails.

Preacher’s are not perfect.  We are not Jesus Christ.  Our marriages are not perfect.  Our children are not perfect.  And often times we act like humans and make terrible mistakes.  The pressure to not let others see those mistakes can be unbearable.  As a preacher I have often wanted to just cry in public, I’m an unworthy sinner.  I often want to ask for prayers.  But, I’m often afraid that living in a fishbowl makes me feel like if I make myself vulnerable that people will take advantage of me.  Or worse yet use my vulnerability as a reason to tell me and my family that we are no longer wanted.

I can’t count the number of times I have felt like a fish in a bowl wandering if I will get flushed down the drain if I seem any less than perfect.  And I can’t count the number of times that I have made myself vulnerable and have been vilified as a result of it.  “Preachers aren’t supposed to fee that way!”  “Are you trying to get fired.”  … statement that I have heard all too often.

Perhaps the best way to describe life in a fishbowl, is just that.  I have no gills.  I can’t breathe under water.  When I feel the daunting pressure of everyone’s watchful eyes I feel like I am drowning.  Not in self pity.  I jut feel overwhelmed and feel like the wind was taken right out of my lungs.

What can you do to help?  When you see your preacher feeling vulnerable,  when you see your preacher feeling “human,” remind him that it is okay.  Remind him that you are here for him.  And whatever you do, don’t hold him or his family to a standard you yourself are unwilling to live by.

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Love Her?

Hopefully you men already know this, but Sunday is Valentine’s Day. While I can understand the sentiment from some that it is nothing more than a Hallmark holiday that perhaps was created to make men feel guilty for forgetting another all important date. I do want to impress upon those of you who are married that showing your spouse that he/she is special is something that needs to be done not just one day of the year (or three days if you count birthdays and anniversaries). It doesn’t matter if you have been married for three days, three months, three years or thirty years, when we fail to treasure our spouses in our lives, we create opportunities for resentment and bitterness. I suppose there are a variety of ways which I could address this idea of treasuring one’s spouse. But, since Sunday is Valentine’s Day, let me say it like this. Fulfill your spouse’s dreams.

The other day I was cleaning on my closet (something I haven’t done in about 6 years). I went through an old box and came across some “Happy Mail” my wife had sent me. At Florida College, our alma matter, happy mail was little cards, notes, etc that we might send to someone that we liked, wanted to give a smile too, etc. I know that somewhere in the basement, she has the happy mail I made her. We did these things when we first started dating. I have no issues stating that I was captivated by her. I was completely twitterpated. In time, those little notes disappeared. We got married. We had that “newlywed” love that was so exciting. Everything was the first time. Our first meal together. Our first attendance at church together. Our first child together. It was all so exciting. Our waking moment was all about the other person. We wrote letters, when we were apart that spoke of how we longed to be together. We talked constantly on the phone. It seemed like our life’s ambition was to assure that we could bring total happiness to our significant other. We wanted to do this because that is how they made us feel. Then life happened. Those exciting moments disappeared. I wouldn’t say I love her less, but the twitterpated feeling dissipated. We call that normal. But, I have to ask, do we call that normal? Is it because we want to justify why we don’t do those little things anymore? I contend that a lasting marriage is found when we continue to do those types of things.

Earlier, I mentioned striving to fulfill the dreams of your spouse. I do not at all mean making it your life’s ambition to get that 1967 corvette for your husband or that 10 karat diamond for your wife. I am talking about giving your spouse every reason to believe that they are living the dream; to give your spouse every reason to believe that life couldn’t be much better. (After all for most of us that is how we felt when we heard those wonderful words… “I do.”)

But, how do I do that? How do I assure that might spouse is happy, fulfilled, and has everything he/she could ever need? The first step is to get to know your spouse again. When you first got together that is all you ever talked about. You got to know him. You learned about his likes, his dislikes. You learned about her family. As you get to know each other more, fears, dreams, goals, etc began to dominate the conversation. Then, one day, we think we know it all. Those conversations have been had. Did it ever occur to you that your spouse’s dreams would change? It is possible that as they age different things scare them? Isn’t it possible that goals have been reevaluated? I encourage you to date your husband/wife. I encourage you to turn off the noise. Turn the phone off, turn the TV off, and treat your spouse to a nice evening together getting to know each other all over again.

The next thing you need to do is stop telling yourself that she doesn’t deserve it. Stop telling yourself you would do more, but your husband is so inconsiderate. What they have done is irrelevant. Think of it like this, at what point did you deserve to have Jesus die for you? At what point did you earn your salvation? We know we did nothing to deserve those things. God’s love and Jesus’ love are models for our own love towards our spouses. No one deserves to have their dreams fulfilled. But, love motivates us to seek to do that.

I encourage you to remember that it doesn’t always have to come with a hefty price tag. I mentioned “happy mail” that my wife and I used to send each other. Those things cost us paper and ink and some time to write out. But, I also know how much they meant. We have been married 13 years and I still have several of these letters. That ought to say something about how important they were to each other.

Finally, I encourage you to overwhelm him/her. Shoot for the stars. Too often I see spouses putting minimum effort into pleasing the other. I am not saying that he didn’t need a new pair of socks, but if all you could think to buy him for his birthday was a pair of socks you are being quite underwhelming! The reality is these things do matter to all of us. We feel discouraged when our spouses forget birthdays anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day. We also feel discouraged when the best they could do is grab a movie out of the $5 bin at Wal-mart and a $3 card that we forgot to sign. Of course, overwhelming our spouses doesn’t have to wait until a special occasion. A surprise is always overwhelming. Buy her flowers because its Tuesday. Fix him his favorite meal just because. Go out of your way to show him or her how much you really do love him/her.

Snow Day

When I was a kid I loved the snow. Watching it fall was always one of my favorite images as a child. There was just something fascinating and captivating about watching the snow drift listlessly in the sky. The bigger the snowflake the more mesmerizing the event was for me. Of course, I also knew what the snow fall meant. It meant that it wouldn’t be long and we would be headed out to Big Rock (our favorite sledding hill). It also meant, especially when we lived out of the farm, we might even get enough of a snow drift that we would build snow forts, have snow ball fights, build snowmen and enjoy snow ice cream. But, if I am honest with myself, my favorite part of a significant snow fall was that if we had enough it meant we had a snow day. School would be cancelled and myself, my brother and my sister would have that unexpected day off from school. It is not that I hated school. I actually enjoyed it for the most part (I loved to read and I honestly loved to learn when I was little). But, that unexpected day of playing, enjoying the wonderful snow was always what the doctor ordered. As I look back on it now, I enjoyed the simpleness of a good snow day.

Today, snow days are scary. I think partly because every snow fall seems to be predicated with the words “Snowmageddon.” But mostly because when I see a snow fall I see how it complicates my life. If I run out of milk, which I will likely will as I noticed it was really low this morning, it is hard to go get milk. The roads are nasty, and if I do happen to get there, there is the legitimate chance the store is out of milk because everyone else felt the need to buy 5 gallons just in case we get 5 feet of snow. I also know that I eventually have to dig out. This is fine and dandy when the snow fall is a couple of inches. But when it starts blowing and the drifts reach 12 inches or more, that snow gets really heavy to move. I see myself focusing on all the reasons I hate the snow and in the end, it just really, really discourages me.

What happened? Why is it one of my favorite times of the year has become one of my least favorite? It is because I “grew up?” I think we like to say that. But, I think the reality is I don’t like the snow, because I am having a hard time slowing down and just enjoying life. So, this morning, if you find yourself in the pathway of yet another snowstorm. If you find yourself sitting there at home with your kids on yet another snow day. Take the time to enjoy it with your children. Find a way to reach that inner child that woke up extra early this morning because he/she didn’t want to waste a single moment of this extra day off sitting in bed. Laugh, play, scream out with joy. Life is too short to not enjoy every single minute.

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment… before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them (Ecc. 11:9, 12:1).”