Enjoy Your Son

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I was given the unique gift of three weeks at the beach with my family this summer. We all love the beach, but it holds a very special place in my heart. I marvel at the awesomeness of the ocean, the power of the tides, and how the beach changes in form every day. I love sitting quietly and taking it all in. I love reading a book, then leaning back in my chair, closing my eyes, and nodding off as the sounds of crashing waves wash over me. I love walks down the beach, gazing at the extravagant houses and the unique people.

I love all of this and more; but that was not what I experienced. You see, we recently adopted three boys ages 4, 3, and 2, and times of peace and quiet seem to be a thing of the past, at least for now. Time for ‘self’ just seems ever elusive.

And so, week one began with great expectations of sleeping in, having some personal quiet time on the deck of the beach house, reading a good book, and all the other personal experiences I already mentioned.

But then reality set in.

At 6:00 a.m. the boys begin to wake, the two-year-old calls for Daddy: precious, yet untimely. We subdue the restless with Mickey’s Playhouse, Doc McStuffins, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Cheerios until they’ve had their fill. Next we begin beach preparation. We spray them down with sunscreen (thank God for spray cans), put on swimmie diapers just in time for one of the boys to have a less than solid poop )which, by the way, swimmies are not well designed for).  We outfit them with their color-coordinated swim suits and shirts, strap on their flip flops, fill the cooler with drinks, the stroller and wagon with snacks, toys, towels, life jackets, chairs and a tent, and off we head for a ‘restful’ time on the beach.

After carting everything and everyone to the beach and laying claim to our territory, I am ready to sit and rest; but NO! The four-year-old wants to go in the water. I try to convince him through my refined power of persuasion that now is not the time, but his insistence and persistence win out. So up I rise, and hand-in-hand we make our way to the cold water. I like to gradually get used to the water, but the four-year-old pulls me in faster than I am comfortable with. How is it that the strength of a 35-lb. preschooler is greater than that of a 220-lb. man?

Bested, I finally immerse myself and take him in my arms. He loves it! He is courageous! We make our way beyond the breakers and begin to rise and fall with the waves. He wants me to let go so he can swim about freely in his life jacket. I concede. After many minutes have gone by, I am ready to return to the comfort of my beach chair. I suggest we go in, but once again I am met with opposition. My young warrior has yet to grow weary; he wants to stay and continue to battle the waves.

It was then that I clearly heard my spirit complaining. This was supposed to be a time for me to relax, for me to get away from the demands of work, for me to spend time with God.

And then I felt like I heard the voice of God saying, “Just enjoy your son as I enjoy my Son.”

Conviction flooded over me. I had become so focused on SELF that I failed to enjoy my son, not to mention the Son. I was seeking a fleeting joy over an eternal joy. At that moment, I stopped and just set my eyes upon the smiling face of my water warrior as he propelled himself over the waves. This was a precious and memorable moment that I almost missed because my focus was misplaced.

It’s hard being a parent of young, energetic boys, but I was reminded this summer at the beach that engaging with them is so much more fun and productive than trying to corral them and make them conform to a lifestyle that is peaceful and comfortable for me. These days will pass quickly, and before we know it, our boys will choose sleeping in or playing video games over time on the beach with us. This is a special phase of life where things are new and adventures abound for boys; we just need to enjoy our sons as the Father enjoys His Son!

 

Navigating the Transition from Father to Friend

Navigating the Transition from Father to Friend

We had an adventurous young couple over for dinner recently. I say adventurous because they joined my wife, me, and six of our seven children. With that many around one table, you never quite know what to expect. The couple handled the meal well, as the youngest indicated he was finished by dumping his plate on the floor for the dog to clean up, and the two-year-old touched every roll before selecting the perfect one. Thankfully, our 19-year-old son happened to be home from college to provide much-needed backup.

We made it through the meal and to dessert when the subject of children and child rearing came up. We were discussing various parental philosophies and challenges when the question of ‘Can fathers be friends to their children?’ arose. We discussed how some fathers are so concerned about being friends with their sons that they fail to discipline them. I was quick to point out that I never had that problem. I have always been a disciplinarian, and trusted that once my boys graduated high school we would move more toward friendship. I then turned to my 19-year-old and said facetiously, “And now we are best friends, aren’t we?” To which he replied, “Dad, to be honest, I’m still a little afraid of you.” I hadn’t expected him to say ‘Yes,’ but I wasn’t prepared for him to say that he was ‘afraid’ of me, either.

I’ve pondered his response quite a bit over the past weeks. There is a part of me that is pleased that my 6’3” son still has a healthy fear of his father. But there is another part of me that longs for a deeper friendship with him. One where he is quick to share his heart, his struggles, and his joys. I’ve realized that developing a friendship with my son will take time and effort on my part. That it is not something that automatically happens at high school graduation; it must be cultivated, nurtured, and transitioned into. Perhaps I should have realized this sooner, when he and his older brother were still at home. I don’t know. But I’m excited for the future as I dream what my relationship with my five sons and two daughters will be like.

This is one area where I seem to have more questions than answers regarding the steps to take in the transition process, and so I welcome your thoughts and comments. What has worked well for you? What specific talks were had or actions taken by you or your parents to move from Father or Mother to Friend?

Peace,
Scott

Our Children Need Forgiveness

Our Children Need Forgiveness

The other night our now 4-year-old was frustrated by his little brother’s unwillingness to give him the Lightning McQueen Car that he was riding. And so, being the bigger and stronger of the two, he simply pushed his little brother off and took it for himself.  The younger one sat crying on the floor, frustrated and physically injured from the fall. That’s when I sprang into action as the defender of the downtrodden. I took hold of the 4-year-old and demanded an explanation, knowing full well why he did what he did, but wanting him to admit his wrongdoing.

Now, one thing I will say for our 4-year-old, he has learned to own up to his inappropriate behavior. He confessed that he pushed his little brother off the car because he wanted to ride it and wasn’t willing to wait for his turn. While I was still enraged, his honest response softened me and instead of inflicting a severe punishment I exiled him to the family room, away from Lightning McQueen, his brother and the rest of the family. Little did I know that this punishment would be more impactful than a typical time out or the loss of some privilege.

So after consoling our youngest son, telling him to ‘suck it up’ (but in more age appropriate terms), and placing him back on Lightning, I headed upstairs to change into some sweat pants and gather up some laundry (yes, even I do laundry when I am desperate for clean underwear). I then heard my wife Carolyn calling, “Daddy.” This wasn’t some affectionate use of the term, but a call on behalf of a needy child. I emerged from the bedroom at the top of the staircase to see her standing with our 4-year-old. He was sobbing and distraught. I looked at him with eyes of compassion and asked, “What’s the matter?” Carolyn responded, “He needs your forgiveness.” I invited him to come up the stairs where I was waiting with open arms. Forgiveness was already his without even asking, but I realized that he still needed to ask for it; and so, between sobs he whimpered, “I’m sorry, Daddy.” I wrapped my arms around him, began to kiss him on the cheek and told him, “I forgive you and I love you soooo much!” His sobbing ceased and relief came over his face. He then went back downstairs, restored and at peace because he knew the love and forgiveness of his father.

This was a great reminder and lesson for me. Our children need to know that they are loved unconditionally and forgiven when they mess up. They need to learn the humility that is required to ask for forgiveness. This will serve them well throughout their lives in whatever arena they find themselves. It also reveals an innate need for reconciliation with God and man.   So let this be a reminder to us as parents and people that while ‘Lightning’ is powerful, it lasts only for a moment; but forgiveness is more powerful and lasts for eternity!

The Power of a Blessing

We haven’t been the greatest parents spiritually. I hear parents talk of how they have family devotions every evening and I just think, “We suck!” We have never done a family devotion, unless the reading of Luke 2 on Christmas morning counts. We don’t send our children to Christian School like other good Christians do. But the one thing we do is pray a blessing over our children when we drop them off at school. We’ve been doing this for 16 years but never seen the impact like we have this year with our adoptive boys.

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My wife Carolyn was running late to drop off our almost 4-year-old and almost 3-year-old at preschool, which, by the way, is at a Baptist Church in case you were judging us harshly. Her habit is to pray a blessing over each of them in the parking lot prior to heading to their classrooms, nothing long and pharisaical mind you, but brief and to the point. Well, on this particular day she was in such a hurry that she forgot to pray for the boys. As she dropped off Sam (our almost 3-year-old) and began walking down the hall, relieved that the morning ordeal was over and the boys had been delivered safely to their respective classes, Sam came running out of his classroom, tears in his eyes and teacher in tow. He cried out, “You forgot to pray, Mommy.” Immediately Carolyn turned on her heels, ran to our little boy, took him in her arms and prayed a blessing over him. The teary-eyed teacher watched, moved by the tenderness of a young boy longing for the prayer and blessing of his parent.

Sam has only been a part of our family for 11 months. He came to us from an environment where prayer was foreign, blessings were few, and safety and security were not a certainty. Yet in his brief time with us he has come to know the power of prayer and a blessing. He knows the comfort of a loving hand on his head and the peace of God which transcends all understanding that results from prayer.  He has come to know the love of an earthly father and mother and is learning the love of his heavenly Father.

So, for those of you who feel you don’t measure up to other Christian parents, why not try praying a simple blessing over your children each day as they head off to school or day care. It won’t take a minute, but it will affect your child immediately and change him or her for a lifetime!

Five Nuggets From a Dad of Seven

Carolyn and I have been married for 23 years. We have four biological children and are fostering to adopt three more. God has been very gracious to us over the years, and we are so thankful for the men and women that our biological children are becoming. Each of them has a relationship with Jesus Christ, and all four have been great students and citizens. We probably would have been smart to quit while we were ahead, but we have always felt a desire to adopt.

We explored foreign adoption, but found it cost prohibitive, and the agency we were working with didn’t like my answer to, “Why do you want to adopt?” I thought I had a good response: “Because we feel we can provide a good home for a child in need.” WRONG! Evidently, I was supposed to say, “Because we want more children.” Honestly, we already had four young children, and my heart was more “willing” than “desiring.” We also fostered three children 11 years ago until we found them a permanent home. In the process, we learned some valuable lessons that have prepared us for the foster and adoption process we’re in today.

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Here are five nuggets that I’ve discovered:

Avoid “Alpha Dog Syndrome

Whether fostering or adopting, I have found that it is wise for the children to be younger than your biological children to avoid the “Alpha Dog Syndrome.” When you have a pack of children, much like when you have a pack of dogs, there will be a fight for supremacy. If the children you are fostering or adopting are the same age as or older than your biological children, there will be ongoing and unexpected challenges to establish control of the pack. These challenges disrupt the overall family dynamics and can contribute to an unhealthy living environment.

They all come with baggage

Even young children, like the boys we are fostering, come with baggage. They have experienced abuse and abandonment like most of us have never known, and it has affected them. They are incredibly sweet and loving one moment, and the next are on a destructive tear—ripping up books, writing on carpet, squirting diaper rash cream everywhere, even stabbing their siblings with pencils. Don’t be fooled by their sweet little faces. Evil is real, and its effects are insidious.

They may be small, but they are determined

Even if you outweigh them by 200 pounds, their will can be stronger than yours. This isn’t limited to foster or adoptive children, but I have been reminded of this lately with our 3½-year-old. For some reason, he doesn’t like to go to sleep at night. We rock him, read to him, rub his back, pray over him, and lay with him until he appears to be asleep, but the moment we get up to leave the room, his eyelids spring open, his vocal cords engage, and his body goes in motion. Before you know it, he is out of bed, exploring new ways to defy you and disrupting the sleeping patterns of his siblings and, of course, his parents. At times like these, you regret ever praying for patience, because God has just enlisted you in the patience boot camp.

Bribery works

While we would never tolerate bribery in business and government, we succumb to it when it comes to influencing the behavior of our children. We may refer to it as an “incentive” rather than bribery, but the bottom line is that a Skittle or M&M is more appealing to a child at times than pleasing his parent. We must walk a fine line here, but, in the end, giving a child a piece of candy to behave in the car or go poo-poo on the potty is a price I’m willing to pay.

Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)

We all fall short as parents, but telling your children you love them and demonstrating your love to them daily will compensate for those momentary failures. Children need to know they are loved, not because of what they do, but simply because of who they are and whose they are. Creating a loving environment for your children will help produce the godly attributes you desire in the end.

Raising children, especially foster or adoptive children, can be like mining for gold. It involves long, tiresome days, understanding the lay of the land, and digging deep to uncover some small, glimmering nugget, but the reward of one redeemed child is priceless.