Category Archives: Parenting

How a word of support might change someone’s life, including your own

“I’m pretty disappointed I didn’t get into this certain program at college,” my daughter Bethany told me last night.

“I’m proud of you for getting into one of the programs the college offered, and this isn’t done yet,” I affirmed. “I’d reach out to the people in charge of the other programs and let them know you’re still interested. It’s all about people, and if you keep showing interest something might open up.”

And I kissed my daughter, told her I loved her, and let her know I’d help her in any way I could. And then I said good night.

A fairly common occurrence around our house, whether it’s my wife Julia talking to one of the kids, or me coming alongside them, or the two of us working together to help them through some issue or difficulty. Nothing very exotic or out of the ordinary.

And then, after the aforementioned discussion with Bethany, the revelation occurred. “And that’s exactly the kind of conversation missing from the lives of many of my students,” I shared with Julia.

I teach at a community college. There is a wide array of students seeking associate’s degrees or just trying to knock out some general education credits on their way to a four-year college. There’s the fresh-out-of-high-school student, the been-working-a-few-years-and-ready-to-get-going student, the single-mom-rebooting-her-life student, the starting-a-second-career student. Different ages, backgrounds, abilities, and support systems.

Quite a few of them, maybe more than I realize, have no support system.

When an opportunity disappears, they lose a job, a relationship ends, or they get a bad grade, they don’t have someone to step in and say, “Listen, I know what you’re made of; you can do better if you just get some help. And here are some places to get help, and I’ll go with you to back you up.” They have to back themselves up, and frankly, that gets pretty exhausting after awhile.

Buttressing themselves against disappointment and loss takes a lot out of them. I see it in some of their faces when I hand them a paper with a less than stellar grade. That’s why I try to say genuinely encouraging words to my students. I’m not perfect at it, and I don’t always think to do it, but on occasion I believe God has allowed me to say something that lets a student know they don’t have to go it alone.

I told one student recently that one of the best qualities she possessed was a teachable heart. She looked at me like she had just won the lottery. “Thanks Mr. Boyd,” she responded. “I really needed to hear that today.”

Words matter. What we say to people matters.

As I consider the theme of this blog, this is one of the most easily available ways for us to respond to the question, “What does God want me to do?”

He wants you to be a light. He wants you to point people to the Light. He wants you to do that through words and caring. He wants you to show compassion and affirm the God-given value of each person, bestowed at birth and confirmed by the Cross.

In some way, even if it’s to our kids for the thousandth time, or to a stranger who we may never see again, may we find the words by the Spirit’s direction that will help people know they aren’t meant to walk through their strife alone. They don’t have to do that.

And the biggest strife they’ll ever face has been resolved: the strife between themselves and a loving Father who has reconciled them through His Son. God give us the courage to let them know that:

“When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.

For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:2-3a)

Or, in other words, God has your back.

How the Lego Movie reminded me that parenting takes imagination

I’ll admit, I went to a certain kid-themed movie (i.e. The Lego Movie) lately with low expectations. Real low. Like, way-down- on-the-ground low. But I’d heard enough about this film from my son Mark to know it would be a fun way for us to spend time on a recent day off school. We met one of Mark’s friends, the friend’s brother and their aunt and went to the show.

As stories go, it’s typical in one sense: underdog guy is selected as the chosen one who can rescue multi-nub plastic-block world from destruction. The hero is so ordinary that he doesn’t stand out from other residents of his toy metropolis, not even among his fellow ordinary construction workers. The surfer who lives down the street doesn’t even know his name. Totally bogus, dude!

His lack of exceptionalness isn’t the biggest problem, however: an evil world leader plans to freeze all of the citizens of plastic block city with a mysterious gooey, clear substance that will “glue” them in place. Worst of all, the destruction is slated for Taco Tuesday. Not Taco Tuesday!

As I allowed myself to immerse in this ocean of imagination, a dimmed light in my mind began to brighten. I saw the genius of the movie: it was every kid’s make-believe world come alive.  Different characters and their associated cars, boats and spaceships were interacting with one another – like they ought to. After all, cowboys, Batman, Gandalf, and astronauts are all part of one big happy family in the universe of a child’s mind.

All these figures talked and fought and built things and solved problems together, all while moving from intergalactic space to a pirate ship to a rainbow world of happiness to New York City. This is imagination. And it was beautiful to behold.

For me, it was a time to remember. My oldest son David and I would construct these multi-dimensional habitats where dolphins and gorillas and cowboys and Revolutionary War soldiers and the Incredible Hulk dwelled. And there was a train that you could take to each little galaxy. David would leave these plastic-block creations up for weeks at a time in the play room, and we’d revisit them together, or he would imagine on his own. The creativity would spill out for hours.

My youngest Mark never got into interlocking construction bricks so much, but we have memories of a different kind, setting up battlefields using wood blocks where miniature cars, dinosaurs, stealth fighter jets, and whoever else would engage in battle till everyone was knocked over. And then we’d set them up and do it again. And again.

With my daughter Bethany, it was dolls. The narrative would start at a beach house, go to a friend’s house, make a stop at the pet salon, and end up at the amusement park. Sometimes male dolls were involved, but they were always gentlemen. They would usually affirm their desire to follow God and not get to serious too soon. Those boy dolls were good guys.

So as I beheld this movie, I was also reminded of the power of storytelling in raising children. As I recall those days, I think my kids and I were dreaming wide awake. Nighttime dreams can be this strange mix-and-match world of dinosaurs chasing me down Main Street, I escape into an ice cream store, and then I order a double dip cone from Abraham Lincoln.

But adults typically stop dreaming in the daylight. Those wild, chaotic, mystical connections that were so typical of youthful days get beat out of us by the grind of life, the stresses of work and difficult marriages, the unyielding kids’ sports schedules, and lots of other things that seem to drain the ingenuity out of us.

Is God still inventive? Think about it: He came up with the resurrection. What’s more unique than that?  The God of the universe moving into my heart and living there? Phenomenal originality. Who would have expected that? Brilliant! And according to Ephesians 3:20, “[He] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

If we’ve found the creativity lacking in our minds and hearts, maybe it’s time to ask, once more, as in the days of youth, “Why not?” Why not ask God to expand our imaginations?

Maybe dads and moms who know Christ could ask Him to inspire the way they related to their children. Husbands and wives could pray for imagination to revitalize their friendship and love life. Employees might inquire of Jesus, “Could you help me see my job and the people I work with differently?” I wonder if these are places where God would like to inject some divine muse.

I just suspect he might want to connect the blocks and make that happen. And that would be awesome.

Image

Learning to find contentment when change seems to be taking a long time

Part of spiritual growth is learning to be OK with unfinished business. That can be a tough lesson for a guy who use to work in a newsroom. I prided myself on digging up a story, getting the interviews done, and the story written by our noon deadline. I was Mr. Deadline. I thrived on that. From start to finish in a couple hours. My editor liked it too. He even made a business card for me that said, “Chief Writer.” He knew I was the go-to guy when he needed to turn a story around fast.

As I’ve gone on in life and in Christ, the more I’ve discovered that very little runs like that. Hours turn into days, days into weeks . . . you know it. Whether its work projects, home projects, character growth, a friend coming to know Jesus personally, spiritual maturity, marriage communication — things seem to take time.

Not that I’m advocating passivity, but I continue to press on with what Jesus shows me today about my faith, my family, my friends, my marriage, knowing that whatever I do, I may not turn any big corners today. Or this week, month or year. Thanks to God for the times where I do see progress. That’s a blessing and a source of motivation.

I’ve gotten better at letting things sit in incomplete mode and I see that as a type of progress in my character. I had a client whose book went through 3 iterations before we got around to finally getting it into print. Stop and go, stop and go. Hurry up and wait. Get some input, wait. Get some interest, wait. Scrap the whole thing, wait. Start all over again, wait. Finally, in the spring of 2013 the book came out. I met my client in 2008 and we started work on it then.

With people and church work it’s the same. Lots of waiting while God moves in people to change them, call on them, using circumstances and human beings, including me, to love, share truth and hang in there with them. And of course it’s like that for God in my life too. Movement forward. Wait. Movement backward. Wait. Movement side to side. Wait.

I’ve learned to shake hands with unfinished business. I won’t say embrace, because that means somehow I’ve become buddies with it. No, I won’t go that far. Shaking hands is growth for me. It’s my way of saying to work-in-progress — whether it’s a character issue in my life, a book project, or what God is doing in someone around me — “Hey, I get it, this process has a life all its own and I need to be ready to go when the Lord is ready to go. I just need to keep alert to what He’s doing, because He’s the one who really runs this show.”

God is all about the undone. 2 Peter 3:9 affirms it — a thousand years is like a day with him and a day like a thousand years. While Christians may look at the world and say, “God, when are you going to wrap this up?” God looks and says, “I’m patient with the world because I don’t want anyone to perish. So I’m waiting just a bit longer.”

Now, on the flip side, I’m mighty grateful that God doesn’t rush to judge. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a). He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Well, this isn’t a blog about anger, but I just find that impatience and anger are close relatives in my life.

So God has been trying to teach me it’s OK to have things in a state of incompleteness. I suppose if he’s trying to make me like Jesus, this is one of those things that is very much like Jesus. Hanging with those twelve guys for 3 years. Plenty of unfinished business there. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6). We’re all unfinished business, aren’t we?

A friend of mine worked on his house for years. It always seemed to be “getting done,” but not quite done. His wife had at least made peace with that situation, having confidence I suppose that her husband would finish someday. She knew he had the drive, but not always the time or resources. She was confident in the builder.

I suppose that’s what God is trying to teach me. And I wonder sometimes if my desire to just “get things done” is an expression of unbelief in my Builder. I suppose the construction of my faith is a bit of unfinished business too. Thank God for that.