Seriously, this is the Best Practical Idea for Young Parents

On January 5, 2005, Jill and I got the call: You’ve been chosen to be foster parents for a two month old little boy. Here’s the address. Please swing by to pick him as soon as you are ready.

Life changed forever in that moment. Just like the rainy day it was in Phoenix, AZ, everything felt different.  We were suddenly parents.  Most moms and dads have nine months to prepare, we had nine miles. That was the distance we drove across town to pick the little guy up.  He needed a place to live and we had room at the inn.

Over the next eighteen months twelve more foster kids would come and go through our home. Four of them ended up sticking around for good; for our good and hopefully theirs too.

While it took us a while to figure most everything out, we did get one thing right from the start and it has made all the difference.

Bedtime.  Consistent, early bedtimes.

We have been parents for nearly 4000 days and almost every one of them has ended with our four boys laying down to sleep between 7 and 8 pm.

Really? Yeah, really. And here's why. 

Consistent and early bedtimes for the boys are the best way Jill and I have found to create the margin we need to stay on the same page all the while ensuring that our kids get the sleep their little brains and tired bodies desperately need too.

What's the most important relationship in the family? I'd argue that it's the relationship between mom and dad.  Our love for one another (or lack thereof) has a cascading effect in family life.  It is amazing at how kids pick up on what is really going on.  Whether it's the child who wants to squeeze into the middle of a hug or the other who shouts from the other room "stop fighting" when he senses there may be a little tension.  

So, early and consistent bedtimes for the kids have allowed Jill and I the margin for three things we might not easily make time for otherwise. 

  1. Date Nights In. It's fun to go out, but a glass of wine on the front porch can do the trick too.  We call it our 'wine at nine'.  I have come to treasure this nightly tradition where we connect more deeply on "how" we are doing or what we are excited about, or why we are feeling so anxious. 
     
  2. Family Admin. There are millions of details to discuss and decisions to consider in family life. As the kids get older and sports, activities and friendships increase, so does the need to connect, every night even, on the details of tomorrow, the weekend, next week, and next month.  
     
  3. Resolve Conflict. Jill and I believe strongly that a husband and wife should not let the 'sun set on their anger', and as such, early bedtimes, have allowed for us to hash out serious matters away from the curious ears of our kids. It's in these moments where marriages can rise and fall. And should a conflict come up that needs to be talked over, without pleading kids around or needing to bolt to work, early bedtimes give us the physical, mental, and emotional space for healthy conflict. 

We've made a lot of decisions as parents, but this one practical idea has given us an inordinately good return on our investment. It was a marriage-changing decision and provided precious moments, each day, for Jill and I to get unstuck, to look back, and plan for what's ahead.

Question: What about you? If you have kids, how do you approach the bedtime routine in your family? If you don't have kids, were early bedtimes a big deal in your family growing up?

Giving Advice is Easy, Changing Your Habits is Not

A few months back I confessed it's still about the 'likes'. What I didn't mention in that post was that right after I realized that I was the one that needed to change (not so much my son) it occurred to me: Why don't I just give the same advice to myself which I so easily give to others?

Photo Credit:   chris.alcoran   via   Compfight     cc


Photo Credit: chris.alcoran via Compfight cc

I could probably give myself a pretty good talkin' to. It would include something about my true identity (son of God), something else about how flimsy 'likes' and 'favorites' are (compared to the sturdiness or face-to-face interaction), etc...

I know the truth. I know that 'likes' and 'favorites' and 'plus ones' are just the fairy dust of the online world. I'm not sure why I have given them so much power or any power for that matter.

I wish it was just as simple as listening to my own advice, but it's not for a couple of reasons.

  1. Change in others is easier to imagine than change in myself. The plank in my eye prevents me from seeing things properly. It functions as a lens that makes it easier to see the faults in others than in myself. Thus prescriptions for others comes easy, taking the medicine myself, not so much.

  2. Giving advice is cheap, changing habits is expensive. Words are a dime a dozen. Cliches and quips fall out of our mouths with the greatest of ease. I've got more advice for others than I know what to do with. Might need to build me a barn to store it all. The words are the easy part. Changing my own patterns of behavior? That's another story altogether.

  3. Knowing what's right and doing it are two different things. There is quite a distance between knowing what's right and doing it. Moral scandals involving Christian leaders serve as Exhibit A. Knowing the truth isn't the problem, applying it in many and varied circumstances is.

If there is anything that I have learned about the connections between beliefs and behaviors it is that we behave how we believe. Thus if we are not behaving in the right way there is still something that needs to developed or debunked in our thinking.

  • If it's a half-truth that we are hanging onto, our thinking needs to develop into the whole truth
  • If it's a lie we are believing, it needs to be debunked and replaced with new true thinking.

And when it's all said and done there is still one person who needs my sage advice more than anyone else on earth.

Me.

Netflix Might be Melting My Brain (and What I Am Choosing to Do About It).

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A few weeks ago my wife went cold turkey on Netflix. As she said "enough already" I was caught off guard. I like Netflix and all, but not enough to watch it alone.

Our nightly show had become a reward of sorts after a long day's work and an eagerly anticipated trip into another world far from the day's troubles. I'm guessing if you have kids (or even if you don't or if you are single), you have a similar routine. Most people I know do.

But at what expense? This was the uncomfortable question that prompted Jill to cut the cord.

What intellectual, emotional, and spiritual effect was this nightly habit having? A little bit each day becomes a lot over time. So the better question is - what effect was a lot of Netflix having?

Dang it. Now that's a good question. And while I don't know the full answer, the little distance I have had from this nightly drip of all things Netflix has given me time to reflect on who has the upper hand. Me or the culture?

As you know the culture we live in isn't happy bedfellows with Christianity. It doesn't share the same aspirations for your life as say, Jesus. Like Chuck Norris, it's powerful, swift, and does it's thing without you even noticing. If it was clumsy and uncoordinated we would have it whipped already, but it's not. So we've been tripped up, handcuffed, and tied to the fence post long before we can even say "boo."

Not you? Think you are impervious to the culture's effects?

You (and me) whose mind is marinated in iPhone, sauteed in Internet and shot through with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Think again.

Our minds (and thus the priorities and decisions that follow) are up for grabs and the culture we live in is playing for keeps. As my Dad, a WWII veteran, once remarked - "you either git or git got." This is the uncomfortable reality my wife's decision forced me to face. For too long I rationalized all the nightly shows as the days' just reward; an irreplaceable connection with my lovely wife.

There's a lot more to it, really.

We are at war.

But not in the typical us vs. them sort of way. The enemy isn't out there as much as it in here. Our love of pleasure, our unending desire to be entertained, and our general malaise are as much the concern as what's 'out there.' In fact, what's out there is simply capitalizing on what's in here. Targeted marketing. We're busy buying so they're busy selling. Win win. Except, it's not.

So the best defense, in this case, is a good offense. We must see to the right kind of change in our lives, before we "get got." The culture is happy to sweep you off your feet and take you with it. Very few of us put up much of a fight. So, we must be agents of change or be changed.

Here are three things to do as you begin to consider the impact that the daily TV drip is having on you, but first you must turn off Netflix (or Hulu or Amazon Prime or the old-fashioned TV) for at least one week.

Step 1: Replace it with another non-screen activity you'd like to do more of Exercise, prayer, book reading, journaling, sleep or talking with another person. The list goes on. I just shared the things most people want more of in their life. This is a great way to get started.

Step 2: Take note of your experience I'm guessing you won't know what to do with yourself at first. That's okay. Habits die hard. Take notice of the uncomfortable boredom that greets you. Resist 'just one show.' You can do it. What do you appreciate about these activities over/against television? How has your life been enriched? Write down the answers to these questions and consider their ramifications.

Step 3: Return, but only with intentionality My guess is that if you are like most people you never decided what sort of things you would watch and what sort of things you wouldn't. Not so anymore. You have begun a very healthy process of standing guard over what comes in. A steady diet of creme-filled donuts will have a certain affect on your body, why wouldn't a steady diet of the best Hollywood has to offer have a similar effect on your mind, soul, and spirit. So, if you return, do so with intentionality. Make some decisions about why you are watching and what shows will help you achieve those goals.

I haven't watched my last show on Netflix, but I hope that I won't go back without owning the decision. Not as a default when 9pm rolls around, but rather a choice that fits into the bigger picture of what is best for my mind, soul, and marriage.

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In the comments below: How about you? What guidelines (if any) do you follow to make decsions about the time/space that television occupies in your life?

4 Reasons I Get Tongue Tied with the Name of Jesus

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Often I substitute other words in conversation, in place of ‘Jesus’, because I fear what comes with the territory. How about you?

  • God, Church, Faith? Easy. Rolls off the tongue. They keep the conversation going.

  • Jesus? Hard. Like Flappy Bird hard. When it’s time to fill in the blank with the word “Jesus”, I often take the chicken exit.

Think about it. How many times in the last week did you bring up the name of Jesus in conversation? Probably less than you could have. I certainly missed a chance or two.

In fact I’d suggest the average Catholic would rather drop an f-bomb than bring up the name of Jesus. Why is this? I’ll throw out four reasons. 

It’s not socially acceptable. In some situations an f-bomb (or a curse word in general) actually helps. A well placed swear word can take you from being super-dork to being one of the guys, just like that. If it worked for me as a 10 year old on the playground, it can work for you. The name of Jesus, on the other hand, often has the opposite effect. Who can stand the funny looks, the fidgeting, the labels, or even the rejection? I rarely can (but I need to, more).

Nobody else is doing it. Why stick out when you can fit in? Very few Catholics at your parish are talking that way, why should you? It’s just not a part of our everyday vocabulary. For better or worse, we absorb our surroundings. Like when you move to Minnesota and you start talking like Marge Gunderson. It just happens. If other Catholics you know are brave enough to talk about their ‘faith’ it’s often still in more generic than specific terms. Baby steps are good, but the world isn’t gonna be changed by doing what we’ve always done.

People don’t talk about what they don’t know about. When the conversation turns to managing a corrugated box factory I stop contributing. I know nothing about factories and even less about corrugated boxes. As soon as I open my mouth about nuances of such a product you’ll immediately see I’m in over my head. The same thing is true with the name of Jesus. You can be a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic and still know nothing about Jesus. Heck, even if you know a lot of facts about him, you may not say that you actually ‘know’ him. Like me and Peyton Manning. I know a lot about him, but don’t know him personally. 

The devil don’t like it. There is more power in the pinky finger of the name of Jesus than all the words in the English language combined, and the evil one knows it. Probably far better than I do. So he gets us talking about really really good things (God, faith, Church) so long as we don’t mention the absolute best thing there is (Jesus). I’m convinced he’d rather have us talk about faith generically than Jesus specifically. Why, you ask? Because Jesus is “the name above every other name” (Phil 2:9), the ”name by which we are saved“ (Acts 4:12), and ”the way, the truth, and the life.”(John 14:6) If your whole goal was to prevent people from connecting with God (as I’m sure is somewhere on Satan’s to-do list), keeping Jesus off the minds and lips of Catholics wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

So, here’s a thought.

For the next week take a leap and substitute ‘Jesus’ where you might otherwise default to a word like God, Faith, Church, etc.

For instance, when you might say to a friend: “My Catholic faith is important to me”, say “Jesus is important to me.”

or to your kids when you might say “let’s pray about it” say “let’s talk to Jesus about it.”

It’s one part new habit, another part courage, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You aren’t just substituting one word with equal value for another.  You are setting the stage for the person you are talking to to consider another person more important than you - a person who loves them and wants to lead them through life.

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t work like like Find & Replace in Microsoft Word.

As such, don’t substitute it if it’s not true. The first step for you, rather than bringing up a stranger’s name in conversation, might be in discovering better who Jesus is and how you can have a relationship with him.  Also, some instances do call for more generic terms. We can’t get away from the imperative to meet people where they are at (so long as we don’t forfeit our position along the way).

Most of the time we over think it, are scared, or are simply unaware of our speaking patterns. It’s time for a change.

So, be discerning and wise, but also bold and brave. 

Who’s with me?

How Protestants Saved Me From Leaving the Catholic Church

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When I went to college I didn’t know my faith very well.

I knew there were differences between Catholics and Protestants, but I was unaware that the distinctions were big enough to cause any real problems.

Pretty naive, I guess.

This all came into graphic relief during my last year at William Jewell College (a historically Baptist college). A communications major (a Catholic) was giving her senior presentation about Christian unity at Jewell. One negative example she gave was of overhearing a conversation where the Student Senate president, who was Catholic, was referred to as “Satan.” 

I was stunned.

That Catholic Student Senate president was me.

I was given this nasty moniker not because of the kind of person I was, but simply because I was Catholic.

In that moment I realized the Catholic-Protestant divide was no joke and there were a lot of people out there who had really big feelings about it all. Rather than being appalled, I wanted to jump in. While I didn’t understand exactly what all the fuss was about, I was put on notice.

Not to further divide, but unite.

A hope for healing, unity, and understanding between all Christians came alive in me.

Most all of my interactions with Protestants at William Jewell College were really strong. I never experienced personally the anti-Catholic bias that was referenced in this speech. Whether it was in small group settings or on retreats or serving at soup kitchens I only knew Christian unity, nothing else. Which is why it surprised me so much to hear Christian disunity expressed so blatantly.

In fact throughout my conversion experience in college I encountered three things from Protestant Christians at William Jewell that ultimately ensured I never left the Catholic Church, and as such, have become something of a template (of course alongside thisthis, and most recently this) for an approach to Christian unity these many years later.

No one spoke ill of the Catholic Church to me. It didn’t take me very long, while I was on campus, to realize that non-Catholic Christians had real questions about what Catholics believe, but I never encountered anyone going on the offensive. Sure, things came up regarding our beliefs about things like praying to saints or the authority of the Pope, but never was I made to feel ashamed of who I was as a Catholic.

No one encouraged me to leave the Catholic Church. This never came up. This hasn’t been every Catholic’s experience, but it was mine. I was in a number of strong men’s groups towards the end of college, regularly engaging other non-Catholic Christians in faith related discussions. Never once was I encouraged to “check out their Church” or reconsider mine. I’m really grateful for this because my experience as a Catholic who had awakened to Jesus, become his disciple, and desired to lead others to him would be a mission fulfilled within, rather than outside of, the Catholic Church.

The focus was on Jesus. More than anything I walked away from my relationships with other Christians at William Jewell with a greater love for Jesus. Jesus was the focus, the center, and the end-goal. This shaped the sort of Catholicism I would embrace beyond my time at William Jewell. Come to find out it was also the Christocentric Catholicism of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and our current Pope Francis.

This focus on Jesus prepared me to re-receive the gift of Jesus in the sacramental life of the Church.

  • Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist became meaningful and eagerly desired, rather than rote and impersonal.

  • Going to confession and knowing that my sins have been forgiven was no semi-annual afterthought, it was healing, sanity, and mercy.

This all kept me Catholic. 

People who loved Jesus were willing to share his love with me - no matter the crazy scary nicknames uttered about me behind my back. 

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