What our Family Does on Halloween

I get asked each year at this time if I let my kids go trick or treating. Within the Christian community, there has always been a polarizing debate about halloween. Do we as Christians reject it, receive it or redeem it?

Because Halloween is next week, I thought I’d share what we do as a family.

Rejecting it would mean we turn our porch light off, pretend October 31st, does not exist and shun those who participate in a day dedicated to eating too much candy. Receiving it would mean we simply go along with what our culture does, participating mindlessly. I think both of these fall short of what God calls us to as his followers.

While there is some history about the origins of Halloween that Christians should be aware of and Justin Holcomb has a great look at that history here.

Practically, the question remains what you’ll do on that day. For our family, we’ve chosen to participate with our neighbor and seek to redeem Halloween. Here are some things we’re doing:

  • Stand out in our driveway. Be out front to say hi to everyone, talk to them. This is a great opportunity to meet your neighbors. Everyone is out walking around. Not sure how often that happens in your neighborhood, but it isn’t an everyday occurrence. Being present in your neighborhood is a great step forward in being on mission in your neighborhood.
  • Build a fire in your fire pit. It makes people hang out longer when there is a fire. Put some chairs around it and invite people to sit down with you.
  • Have the best candy. Your house as a follower of Jesus should be the house kids want to go to 5 times because your candy rocks.
  • Have something great for the adults. We often have hot apple cider or some other treat that adults can take with them. Maybe bottle of water. Something they can take with them.
  • Include your missional community. Because the mission of our MC is our neighborhood, many from our MC will come and trick or treat with us and spend time helping to hand out candy.

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Books on Adoption & Parenting

I’m often asked about book recommendations when it comes to parenting or adoption. Everything from how you get your child to eat the food you give them to organizing your day to not go crazy and everything in between. Below are some of the books that I have found to be the most helpful and useful, with a little bit about each book so you know which ones to get for your family.

Wounded Children, Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families by Jayne Schooler & others

A great book with an overview perspective on parenting traumatized children- less of a how to and more of a why things play out the way they do. MANY books are referenced, and there is an extensive appendix of additional resources and support groups/aids. There is an honest look at extreme abuse/trauma cases but doesn’t talk through cultural/language differences or more mild cases- though I would assume it is much of the same. There is a good section on how adoption affects the “original” family; including siblings already in the home.

Just Take a Bite: Easy, Effective Answers to Food Aversions and Eating Challenges by Lori Ernsperger

As a mom of a resistant eater this book covered many things that don’t apply to our specific situation ie. a healthy son who refuse to try new foods, but is has some great ideas to help include a wider variety of foods into a resistant eaters diet. The book provides a middle ground that I could not see- not acquiescing to whatever your child will eat and not forcing them to eat which can promote negative attitudes toward new foods. There seemed to be many ideas for kids with special needs who need help developing a wider diet.

Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen

For a soon to be adoptive parent of an international child this book is a must. It gives so many practical tools and games to connect with a child who needs help bonding and also gives clues into what your child is feeling based on the type of play that they are engaging in. The book uses a few “stereotyped” kids to talk through typical reactions for different personality types and coping methods for kids from hard places. This book does not need to be read in one sitting, but can be read incrementally because it is written in chronological fashion.

A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul by Holly Pierlot

This has nothing to do with adoption, but I know that a solid routine for kids from hard places is very helpful. This book is written by a mom, who gets at the heart behind a schedule- namely mortification- self-discipline to promote Godliness.

Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control: Volume 1 by Heather Forbes

Is a how-to book in dealing with specific issues experienced in adoption. The premise of parenting from a place of love instead of fear is very freeing. I think that this book is a good first step to many of the behaviors addressed, but I would guess that there needs to be a certain amount of self awareness from the child to be able to have the discussions used as examples in this book. The biggest take away from this book is that children are not trying to be manipulative, but their behavior is the only way they know how to express what is going on inside.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim Payne M.Ed., & Lisa Ross

Again, this book is not about adoption, but deals with… simplicity in schedule, stuff, and making sure that there is a solid connection and grounding for children. The thing that was an eye opener about this book lies in the introduction; the author talks about how he was doing some work at a refugee camp in Africa and was treating kids with PTSD, then after that he started a private practice in the states. Through his practice he started to see that children in the US were exhibiting some of the same behaviors as the children from the refugee camp… mainly because of the pace and disconnectedness that so many children grow up with in their homes. My fear is that many children are adopted out of their original culture, and then through another environment do not give them the connectedness and grounding that they need, so the underlying issues are not addressed just masked.

The Connected Child : Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family by Karyn Purvis

This is one that I am planning to read along with the workbook by Karyn Purvis; found here http://empoweredtoconnect.org/created-to-connect-study-guide/.

The Biggest Sin in Adoption

We have met our son, FINALLY seen his sweet smile, squeezed his small body, got lost in his big eyes and then had to say goodbye for 5-10 weeks. Every time I think about leaving him that last day tears come to my eyes; we walk with him toward the lunchroom and his breathing becomes great heaves. Josh and I are trying to hold it together and not have a complete melt down in front of our son, who has lost SO MUCH, and now probably feels like the hope that he may have found in a relationship with us is being ripped away from him. We help him wash his hands, and instead of his lighthearted smile and willingness to obey, he is in a fit of tears and his legs won’t support him… we kiss his sweet face and walk away. The nanny explains we will be back, but how can a 4 year old know that in his heart. So again because my arms are too short to change anything in this process, we pray; that he doesn’t lose hope, that when we return he doesn’t reject us because he has felt abandoned by us, and that our hearts will be ruled by peace and patience as we wait.

This is the part that gets me, being ruled by peace as we wait. There have been times in this waiting that I have gotten caught up in the frenzy of wanting to know what is going on, following other people’s journey forward and feeling forgotten, and it. has. been. sin. Before we traveled to meet our son, we were waiting on a piece of paper from a government official giving us the clearance to travel, as we waited I begged God that it would come through. One morning I woke up especially early and prayed, I watched the sun rise and was reminded of  what we tell our kids… see that light from the sun, it is so bright that it is hard to look it, that is what the glory of the Lord looks like…

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That morning I was reminded of the truth that God’s ways are above our ways, that He exists outside of time and He already sees it as done. The timing of the thing that I was so anxious about, God already saw as DONE. Thinking in that way helped me to not just cling to the peace that I knew I should have, but actually live in it.

We are in a time of waiting again, this is some of the most painful waiting we have had to do up to this point…

I am reminded of God’s heart toward us, His calling us and desire to be in relationship with us, and because of his patience we have salvation (2 Peter 3:15). My desire through this is to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity (2 Peter 3:18). If I fall into the sin of worry, control and lack of peace, then I am not pressing into God’s heart for me or my son, who is not orphaned because he is OUR SON NOW, but feels orphaned. There is a longing in my heart that can very easily cross over into the sin of worry, but if I feel that and see it through God’s heart toward those who have not crossed over into His family I am more likely to live in His peace.

Isaiah 53:5 says,

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

If I am not living in peace then I am neglecting the very crucifixion of Jesus, and I think that is the biggest sin in adoption.

Rex Ryan: The Model Father?

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This past Saturday, Rex Ryan, head coach of the NY Jets caused a stir in New York City by skipping out on the last day of cuts and going to see his son dress for a college football game at Clemson. His son is a walk on for that team.

If you aren’t familiar with “cut day” for the NFL, it is when all teams must get their rosters to 53 players. This day was Saturday, the same day as the Clemson football game.

According to one NY reporter, “his trip to watch his son play is ‘big F.U. to all of the players,’ that coach was going to watch son play…Ryan shirked his professional responsibilities for personal ones.”

Did he shirk his professional responsibilities for personal ones? According to ProFootballTalk, “Ryan had permission from the Jets owner to attend the game.”

Let’s say it is true and he had permission to attend the game. The question becomes if it was a wise move.

From the perspective of a father, the answer is yes. They didn’t decide who was being cut that morning. Those cuts were in the process all week. It isn’t like Rex Ryan could not be reached if something came up.

How many times does your son dress for his first college football game? Once. You can’t replace that. I still remember my first college soccer game that I dressed for. I was so excited about it and my dad surprised me by driving 5 hours one way to see it. Right when the game was over, he drove 5 hours back because he had to work the next day. And I played 0 minutes in that game, but he was there to see me dress. I had accomplished one of my goals and he didn’t miss it.

That’s choosing what matters.

If you are a dad, you have professional responsibilities and personal responsibilities. Everyday is a balancing act of those 2 worlds. There are times you won’t be able to get back. The “first” experiences your kids have of anything is one of those. Being at games, recitals, plays, concerts, don’t come around again. As a father, every choice you make with your time and your family has enormous implications for years to come. Every adult can look back on their childhood and see the absence or presence of their father and know this is true.

I would say, as a father, Rex Ryan made the only choice that should have been on the table.

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How we Spent our Time in Ethiopia with our Son

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Many of you have asked what our time with our son was like while we were in Ethiopia. In 2 words: too short, but in actuality we spent everyday with him at the transition home, usually twice a day for … Continue reading

Tuesday Morning Book Review || The Pastor’s Family

bookEvery Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (kindle version) by Brian & Cara Croft.

This is a topic close to my heart as a pastor. I’ve blogged before about the joys of being a pastor, the weight of pastoring and being a pastor’s wife.

This book is really helpful. While Brian writes most of the content, Cara interjects points throughout the book. She even writes a chapter about being a pastor’s wife and a chapter on her struggle with depression and discouragement.

What is the goal of this book? The authors put it like this:

This is a book written for men who have answered the call to serve the church of God as preachers, teachers, leaders, and shepherds. And it’s written to address a unique problem these church leaders face: How do you faithfully serve the church while serving your family? How do you balance the demands of ministry with the demands of being a father and husband? How do you prioritize your time between preaching the word, making disciples, and loving your wife and children?

The role of being a pastor or being a pastor’s wife or a pastor’s kid is not harder than other roles, but it is different. People walk into a church and immediately have expectations of what they want from a pastor. Usually, this is based on the past. It is based on something they liked in a previous pastor or disliked. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “My old pastor used to…” as a way to tell me how I was not measuring up. It is the same for a pastor’s wife. Many people expect her to be at everything, lead everything, sing, teach, disciple every woman, etc.

What most people fail to realize (and I’m grateful that Revolution Church understands) is that each pastor and their wife is unique. They have different gifts and personalities. Every pastor is to lead, teach and shepherd. Every pastor will do that differently. Some are extraverts that fill a room and others are introverts that are more quiet.

The one part of the book that was most helpful to me is the part on loneliness. It is interesting that in a church, everyone knows the pastor and his wife because of the up front nature of the pastor’s job. Yet, few people really know them. The pastor and his wife have a harder time finding community. Now, sometimes this is the fault of the pastor and sometimes the fault of the church. Many people wrongly assume that on Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, etc. that the pastor is invited to 25 different picnics because “they know everybody” when in actuality most pastor’s are not invited to any of the things others in the church are invited to. It can be lonely.

If you attend a church, pull aside your pastor and his wife and ask how you can pray for them. How you can serve them, cheer them on. Ask what they need and then listen. Don’t have an agenda as they’ll sniff that out in a heartbeat.

Here are a few more things that stood out:

  • We end up defining greatness much like the world does – by how grand, glamorous, and broad an impact an individual had in their life and ministry.
  • It’s safe to assume that our process for determining if someone is “great and faithful” in ministry is typically not dependent on whether these men were faithful to love their wives and shepherd their children.
  • The temptations a pastor or church leader faces to neglect his family for the sake of greater and more fruitful ministry are real and nothing new.
  • The most noticeable problems typically get the most attention.
  • There are demands on a pastor’s time, and most of them are legitimate. Yet the real problem of neglect is actually rooted in something deeper than just competing demands for time and attention.
  • Because the family of a pastor is under such close scrutiny from the church, it can be tempting for a pastor to care more about the way his family appears to other people than about actually caring for his family.
  • An unhealthy focus on perception – caring too much for what others think – tempts a pastor to seek a quick fix or to cover up unhealthy patterns and problems instead of honestly dealing with the sins he commits and the challenges he faces in his family life.
  • The wife of a pastor should be seen, but that doesn’t mean we have to “do it all.” In other words, it’s important that the wife of a pastor shares his desire to serve the church, but her service cannot be motivated by a concern for what other people think.
  • If a pastor and his wife sit back and wait for others to take the initiative in building relationships, they will remain quite lonely.
  • Being overlooked and feeling unimportant go hand in hand with the struggle a pastor’s wife has with loneliness. Your role as a wife is lived out in the shadow of your husband. You are seen by many, yet at the same time you are invisible.

While I liked most of the book and Katie and I had some good conversations based on the content, my one annoyance is how so many books excuse the sins of pastors. Here’s what I mean. In this book and another one written to church planting wives, the wife excuses when her husband sins. In this book, Cara talked about the times her husband would answer the phone during dinner, go out when there was a crisis in the church, someone to visit, etc. instead of being at home for the night or instead of delegating that responsibility to another leader. Essentially, how he put the church in front of his family and that was part of the sacrifice of being a pastor’s wife. Now, there are times a job beats a family, every job has that. There are also times a pastor shouldn’t answer his phone, respond to a crisis or delegate something. When someone calls and says, “We have to meet right now.” As long as no bodily harm will come from meeting tomorrow, if you are at home, meet tomorrow. A crisis sometimes needs to be met immediately and sometimes it can be met the next day. Use some wisdom on that, but please stop excusing your husband’s sin.

Off my soapbox.

Other than that part, the book was great and incredibly helpful for pastors and their wives about what it is like to be a pastor. It is unique, it is different. It is hard work and it is a joy.

I love the way Cara answers the question if being a pastors wife is harder than she expected. She says, “It is more rewarding than I expected.”

One last thing about being a pastor’s wife that we’ve held since day 1 of Revolution: A pastor’s wife should have the same expectations placed on her as on every other woman in the church. She should use her gifts, serve, give, be in community. The expectation should be the same as every other woman. Our elders do not expect a pastor’s wife to do more than another woman. Can she? Yes. Does she have to? No.

If you are thinking of becoming a pastor or a pastor’s wife, or you are one, this is a book worth picking up. Today.

Meeting our Son who we Didn’t Know Much About…

After 24+ hours of travel we were breathless with anticipation as we got off the plane in Ethiopia… trying to navigate buying a visa, getting through passport control, finding our luggage (almost), filing a claim for our lost bag, talking with a retired gentleman who moved from Ethiopia to the US (he was a God-send), and getting through customs with our 3 boxes of donations. We were finally there, after 3 and a half years of paperwork, phyicals and more paperwork, God was fulling his call on our life.

We stopped at the guest house (gh) to drop off our things and brush our teeth, then we were off to the transition home (th). We had 30 minutes to meet our son before we would be whisked away to an authentic Ethiopian meal with entertainment! Talk about pressure, 30 minutes to meet our son and convince him that we were cool enough to parent him for the rest of his life! Thankfully we packed balloons and bubbles, the love language of small children from 3rd world countries.

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Introducing Mamush, soon to be Judah! You may notice that he is not looking at us, he is looking a Champ, the man behind the camera. He was unsure of us and was looking to the only other person in the area that was vaguely familiar to him.

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After reading about other people’s adoption journeys; we decided that it would be a good idea to bring a backpack with goodies that we could use each day. That way Judah could associate it as his, and we can bring it back on our second trip, with more “goodies” for him as we travel the LONG way home. It was a great tool in connecting…

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I am not above bribing with balloons! Notice that his body is starting to relax and he is not as stiff. Mamush’s first language is a tribal language, his second language is Amharic, and he is working on his third language English. Needless to say, he is a little quiet, and has no clue what we are saying!

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Notice how he is copying my face while blowing up the balloon! Priceless!

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Playing bop-balloon with dad helped to warm him up.

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Finally, we got smiles! This is something that we had long waited to see. All of the pictures that we had received of him are very serious and unsure. We knew that his little heart was at least comfortable, if not warming, toward us. Oh, the joy of a mother’s heart.

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And finally, eye contact. It is very hard to express in words the feelings of our first few hours in Addis Ababa, meeting our son. He was loved by us the moment we started the adoption process, it has been a long journey here, but he will forever be well worth the wait.

We will return to Ethiopia in 5-10 weeks to bring him home with us. We still need to raise $5,000 for this trip. If you would like to be a part of bringing him home to our family, you can give (tax deductible) here.

Marital Bliss

bookRecently, one of my brothers (Mac) got married to Savannah. Before the wedding, he asked some couples to share their marital wisdom with him and his wife. Here’s the list that I put together of what Josh and I have learned over 11 years of a marriage:

  1. 1. It’s all about the sex… well, it’s not, but your physical relationship is a good barometer for the health of your relationship, so keep it up! hee hee, you can omit that last phrase, but I couldn’t resist.
  2. Mac your tender love toward Savannah can be a covering for her, that allows her to become all that God has for her. Savannah your deep and honest respect of Mac can be the fertile soil from which he is able to see and grow into all that God has for him.
  3. Don’t make fun of each other ever – “just kidding” usually hurts. If you have to say “just kidding” usually there is something truthful there and you aren’t kidding.
  4. Fight for oneness in all things, especially decisions. Nothing and no one can come between you and be more important than your relationship, except Jesus.
  5. Savannah, learn how to cook at least one amazing meal. Mac, learn how to clean up that meal!
  6. Physical activity helps to keep you healthy, creates longevity, works as a stress re-leaver, and is the foundation for a great sex life. (See #1)
  7. Recreational companionship is important, even when it feels like you are wasting time.
  8. Find out what each other thinks is attractive and try to make that happen on a regular basis.
  9. Go through your underwear drawer yearly- update and purge! (See #1)
  10. Statistically speaking the cards are stacked against you; marriage is created to be a beautiful picture of God’s love for the church – by fighting for a happy and healthy marriage you are radiating a picture of the gospel to those around you. Take that seriously.

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Home

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Home is the place where we sometimes hurt the ones we love, but the back door is always open – and there is always a seat at the table. We have a choice where we put our hearts and lay our heads, but home is where it’s always been. Home is home – not necessarily a location, but more than a feeling. It’s the place where we are loved even when that love is complicated and messy but still takes time to set a plate for you. -Jeff Goins, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing

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The Sins of a Pastor || Giving Away too Much at Home

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Pastors, like any person sin. While this may be surprising for some people as they put their pastors and their wife on a pedestal, it is true. Because of the nature of being a pastor and the life they live, their sins are often not obvious and ones that no one will ever know about. In fact, some of the most hurtful and dangerous sins are ones that a church and elders can unknowingly encourage. These sins are not in any particular order, just the order I wrote them in.

So far we’ve covered:

  1. Your Bible is for more than just sermon prep.
  2. A pastor being untouchable.
  3. The pastor’s family. 
  4. The need to be needed. 

The fifth sin that many pastors deal with is the sin of giving away too much at home. I think this sin could just be labeled to all men.

This can look any number of ways:

A pastor disciples people for a living so is lazy at home. Much like the first sin we discussed that a pastor uses his bible only for sermon prep, when you disciple people for a living, the last thing you want to do is come home and do more “work.” As a pastor, I get this. It is easier to disciple others than those closest to you. The problem is that as a man, you are called to pastor your family. Every man, every father. Many men fall into this trap because his wife spends more time with the kids, he lets her disciple more than she should. Now, hear me out here because if you miss this, you will miss the point. In our family, Katie spends more time with our kids than I do. But, as the head of our house, it is my job to set the tone of family worship and discipleship. Together, we talk through what our kids will learn, what as a family we will study, what things she thinks will work best for our kids at their various ages. Too many men simply let their wives do this alone instead of walking together in it.

Does not give a vision to his family of where they are going. Many pastors are strong visionaries. They lead building campaigns, launch new ministries, cast a vision for where their church is going. Yet, they have no vision for their family. Think for a moment, do you have a way of deciding how to spend your money or time as a family? How do you know who you should spend time with? What is the most important thing for your family in the next 2-6 months? How will you know if the next season will be busy or if it is time to slow down as a family? Your family needs this, they need the structure that you as the husband/father should provide.

If you don’t have a clear mission statement for your family, read this. The bottom line, if your ran the church how you run your family, how would it go? How long until you got fired for having no vision or organization?

Makes his church more important than his family. Many pastors children grow up to despise the church and the reason is because they grew up feeling like the church was more important than they were. Dad skipped things for church stuff. They were pushed aside for things at church. Now, pastors should work hard, just like any other man. No child should grow up feeling they got leftovers from their dad.

Here are some ways to communicate to your wife and kids they are more important than your job:

  1. Tell them. One day, someone else will pastor Revolution Church. I will die or retire. No one else will parent my kids.
  2. Date nights and daddy dates. Every week you should have a date night with your wife, pursuing her, wooing her, loving her. Every week, you should have a daddy date with one of your kids. Spending time with them, doing something they want to do.
  3. Don’t look at email, social media or messages when you’re off (especially during dinner). This seems obvious, but a lot of people in our culture are addicted to technology. We go into cold sweats at the prospect of not checking social media or email for an evening, let alone a whole day. If that’s you, you should for sure turn it off.
  4. Communicate your family’s important to your church. Tell your church from up front how much your family matters. Bottom line pastor, if your marriage or family falls apart, so does your ministry. If your marriage falls apart and your church doesn’t fire you or put you on a leave of absence, you shouldn’t be there anyway. It is one of the qualifications of being an elder. You should never use an illustration that paints your wife or kids in a bad light. Need an illustration of what not to do, use yourself as an example. Talk about how important they are. Tell your church that by valuing your family, they are valuing the church. If I’m talking to someone at church and one of my kids comes up and says, “Excuse me Dad” like we’ve taught them, I’ll ask the person I’m talking to to wait. If this frustrates them, that’s okay. My wife and kids are that important. I’d expect and hope someone would do that to me.
  5. Be at their stuff.  As a pastor, you have a flexible schedule. Use that to your advantage with your family. You can work on a sermon after your kids are in bed, you don’t have to do it at 2pm during a school recital.

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