david herndon

parenting for sand dollars

photo (27)

Two weeks ago my family was vacationing on The Gulf of Mexico.  There was a sandbar about 400 yards into the ocean, so as we looked out from the beach the water gradually became darker and then lighter again.  One of my favorite activities each day was to take my 10 year old son, a kayak, and a paddle board from the beach to the sandbar and then along the edge of the sandbar back and forth.  Since the water was so clear we could see EVERYTHING that swam and lived underneath– schools of mullet and redfish, Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel, Sting rays, Blue crabs, and Sharks.

It was beautiful, and even more so because I was sharing this experience with my son.

It was so rewarding to introduce him to the adventure of paddling and to expose him to the beauty of creation – two things that I did not discover for myself until later in my life.  I could also see his self-confidence grow before my eyes as he paddled miles through the week on his own among sharks and sting rays and mackerels.

He’s not a little boy anymore.

One of our last days we drifted over the sandbar and my son exclaimed, “Dad! Look at that sand dollar!  It’s as big as a pancake!”  I looked down and there were hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars – some as small as a poker chip and some, yes, as large as a pancake.  My son said, “Let’s dive down to them.”

Now if you know anything about me you will know that I have an irrational fear of deep water.  I prefer to go no deeper than my knees, my waist at most.  I like boats, kayaks, and paddleboards for the pure fact that they provide a barrier between me and things that can eat me.  I’m more likely to get struck by lightning than be bitten by a shark, but I still panic when my head can’t stay above water without my feet on the ground.  On our honeymoon my wife took me snorkeling in, literally, the most beautiful spot in the world.  It was the first and only panic attack I’ve ever had in my life.  Like I said – my fear is irrational.

And now here was my son asking me to dive down 15 feet in the open water – mere yards from where we saw a shark as big as me the day before.  No air tanks.  No spears.  No cage.  Just open water, the two of us, and hungry, hungry sharks lurking in the deep.  I was torn.

On one hand was my personal fear.  It has proved limiting to life in my past, but it was something I had grown accustomed to and found ways to manage.  It is not my favorite quality for myself, but I have come to accept it and I never try to change it.  It doesn’t make me a bad person or even a bad parent.  In some situations it could probably be a praiseworthy attribute of safety and self-preservation.

On the other hand, I was so proud of my son who in the past several days had become a young man right in front of my eyes.  His sense of adventure and self-confidence had grown exponentially in such a short time.  Did I really want to limit that?

I thought about telling him to go for it alone and I’d keep an eye out for sharks.  In the end that didn’t seem honorable.   So yes – I jumped in.  I dove down.  I swam along the bottom of the sandbar with my son.  I may have peed my pants a little.

Most importantly… I survived.  I even kind of enjoyed it.

It’s been almost a month since that trip and my son still talks about that day.   He tells random strangers that he swam with sharks and saw sand dollars as big as his head.  He is even requesting scuba lessons for his next birthday.   Not only that, I see that same self-confidence at work now that he has started a new school year with new peers and a new teacher.  It’s almost like he can handle anything because he did that.

I know that for most people diving on a sandbar is probably not that big of a deal – kid stuff.  But that one simple dive made a bigger impact on my son than I could ever imagine.

I can’t help but think: What if I said no to him that day?

As parents, we all want good things for our children.  We want them to do their best, to be successful, to make wise decisions, be kind, keep the right friends, follow Christ, give back to the community, be involved in church, and the list goes on.  But are we willing to go first?  How can we desire things for our children that we are not willing to pursue for ourselves?  We shouldn’t let our own fears and comfort zones limit our children’s lives.

So, parents, I issue the challenge to you: get out of the boat, dive into the deep stuff.  You will have to sacrifice.  It will cost you time and money.  It will be difficult.  I may even be uncomfortable.  But your children will follow… and one day they will go deeper than you could ever imagine.

Here are 3 things I think every parent should be involved in for the sake of their children:

1. Church

2. A Small Group/Bible Study

3. Community Service/Missions

So get out of the boat, Mom and Dad.  The water is beautiful.

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I awoke suddenly to the incessant beeping of the IV machine, letting the entire hall know that it was time to change the bag. Luckily the patient did not wake up since by now I knew how to work the buttons better than the PM nurse.  I settled back into the plastic covered recliner that was my bed and tried to go back to sleep, knowing that in 90 minutes I would be up again, helping take vitals with the nurse.  I was exhausted, but sleep did not come easy.

I was worried.  I was anxious.

This was my life for most of last week.  My son woke up one morning with a stomach ache.  A doctor’s visit, a hospital stay, and then a transfer to another hospital.  It could be appendicitis.  I could be colitis.  It could be a parasite.  “We’ll have to run tests to be sure.”  Tests meant drawing blood, among other things.  Lots of pricking and prodding tended to weary the patience of the strongest 6 year old I know.  Doctors, nurses, needles, oh my.  He was scared.  So was I.  My son was sick and I didn’t know what was wrong or how to fix it.

So in the early hours of the morning I sat in my plastic recliner and prayed.  Then God reminded me of this scripture:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).”

I get it.  I’ve heard like a million Christian talks on how “worry is the opposite of faith,” and how “worry is a sign that we are trying to control God,” and blah, blah, blah.  I know that I shouldn’t worry about making a good impression on the new neighbors.  I know that I shouldn’t worry about that red light when I’m already running late.  I shouldn’t worry about affording to pay for one more Disney trip.  That’s first world problems.  That’s the small stuff.  That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the big stuff.  What if I can’t afford to pay for all three of my children to go to college?  What if my daughter gets pregnant as teen?  What if one of my sons gets a girl pregnant?  What if one of my children becomes a drug addict?  What if I get cancer?  What if one of my children gets cancer?  What if my wife gets cancer?  What if its not appendicitis or a stomach bug?  What if its something worse?

When you love someone as much as a parent loves a child or a husband loves a wife… how do you not worry?

When tragedy strikes and your whole world turns upside down… how are you supposed to be thankful?

Abraham worried about fulfilling God’s call so he had a child with a woman who wasn’t his wife.  Noah worried about finding land after the flood, so he kept sending birds to their deaths as they flew across endless water.  Gideon worried about battle so he often tested and challenged God.  Paul writes in Philippians 4 the famous “do not worry” passage, but just 2 chapters before he talks about his own anxiety concerning one of his disciples, Epaphroditus.  And even Jesus, the night before his death, sweated blood as he prayed, “If there is another way, let this cup pass from me.”  The bible doesn’t really give instructions on how not to worry.

I hashed this out with God, the beeping IV machine, and the plastic recliner all night.  As I watched my son sleep I couldn’t help but think that my love for him is but a fraction of God’s love for us.  “I would give my life for his health,” I said.  “So would I,” God replied, “and so I did.”

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

This next sentence is difficult to write and perhaps more difficult to read.

God is not as concerned about our health and well-being and general comfort in life as we are.  I’m not saying that He’s not concerned.  Its just that the things we value most are not as valuable to Him.  On the cross, Jesus could have died so that we would never experience illness or disease. He could have died so that we would never experience poverty or hunger.  He could have died so that we would never experience injustice or hate.

But he didn’t die for those things.

Jesus died so that we would never have to experience separation from God.

God is most concerned with our relationship to Him.  The only thing that ever threatened our relationship with God, and thus our eternity, is sin.  Through the cross, Jesus took care of that problem.  So we don’t have to worry about it anymore.  We’re cured… if we want to be.

The truth is that any anxiety I feel is evidence of being more concerned with this life than the life to come.

I may or may not be able to afford three college educations.  My children may or may not become drug addicts.  My son may or may not have a parasite that makes his stomach hurt.  God does not require us to have a college education in order to understand His love.  God does not require us to be clean and sober in order to receive His grace.  God does not require us to be healthy in order to live in His ways.  God does not value us based on our checking account, our car title, or the title on our office door.

In the end none of that really matters because none of these things determine my relationship with God.  None of these things determine my eternity.

I still worry, especially about my family.  I probably always will.  I don’t understand how to prevent anxiety anymore now than I did last week in the hospital.  But I take great comfort in the fact that my eternity has nothing to do with my abilities (or lack thereof) or my wealth (or lack thereof) or my success (or lack thereof) or my health (or lack thereof).

My eternity has everything to do with Jesus’ victory over sin in His death and resurrection.  I can be thankful for that.  No matter what happens (or doesn’t happen) today, my sins are forgiven and my eternity is secure in Jesus Christ.  Come illness, come trouble, come injustice, come hardship… nothing can take that away.

I can be thankful for that.

And that is one less thing to worry about.

Happy Easter.





godly parents
March 4, 2014, 5:01 pm
Filed under: parenting | Tags: , , , ,

I read a blog last week by a 19 year old who claims to have never rebelled and her article consisted of the top 5 things parents need to do so their kids don’t rebel either.  If I’m real honest, the whole article made me kind of sick.  First of all, I’m not in the habit of taking parenting advice from a teenager.  No offense meant.  I thought I knew everything about parenting at one time.  Then my wife got pregnant 3 times.  Secondly, I don’t think the mark of godly parents is a non-rebelling teenager.  My mother and step-father are two of the finest parents I know and two god-fearing people to boot.  I still screwed up.  A lot.  Finally, I think we need to redefine what we mean by rebellion.  Its a strong word that gets way overused in our American culture – just ask any third world country currently going through a true rebellion.

I know some of you may think your students are rebelling right now (and maybe they are).  But what if in actuality they are just expressing curiosity?  I know – our kids do things that we don’t understand… a lot!  As parents, it makes us feel like we’ve messed up or that our kids don’t trust/respect/love us.  But what if our kids are testing the boundaries BECAUSE we are doing a good job and BECAUSE they trust/respect/love us and they know that we trust/respect/love them too?  How do we teach ourselves to view our kids mistakes NOT as rebellion, but as… well… just mistakes?

Webster defines “rebellion” as “an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler.”  In this case you (the parent) are the established government or ruler.  Like it or not, that’s your job.  God gave it to you, and you accepted when you participated in the life giving process of pregnancy and birth.  It was a pretty easy job to be the established government and ruler when your children just ate, slept, and pooped.  Then they learned how to run away screaming “no,” and its all been downhill since then.  However, before you are too quick to label your kids as rebels, ask yourself if they are indeed leading “a violent and open resistance to your rule.”  Or are they just being kids?  Just like I was a kid.  Just like you were a kid.

Now, to be fair, many teenagers do rebel.  This may be another topic for another day but I will give you my brief description of a TRUE rebelling teenager.  A true rebelling teenager leads to harming his/her self and/or his/her family in physical and emotional ways on a consistent, daily basis.  A true rebelling teenager will disappear, runaway, and lie on a consistent, daily basis.  A true rebelling teenager will break laws in order to feed their need to rebel on a consistent, daily basis.  I’ve helped with true rebelling teenagers and their families before, and usually I was joined by some sort of law agency or family services.  I can tell you there is a BIG difference between a kid who is testing boundaries and a kid who is truly rebelling.  However, both have a really good common trait – they both can change with the love and grace of Christ and his/her family… just like any student can.

So what is my point in all of this?

Your kids are going to test boundaries and your patience.  It is a part of growing up.  Your role as a parent is not to 100% completely prevent your kids from making mistakes.  That’s impossible, in case you didn’t know.  AND that is not the mark of a godly parent.  A godly parent finds the balance between love, grace, and discipline in order to help their kids learn from their mistakes in an environment of shared trust and respect.  You might just want to put that last sentence on the fridge.

If your child is participating in true rebellion and leading a violent open resistance to your rule, seek the help and counsel of the necessary agency, church, or ministry.

But if your child is just making mistakes… Try to keep extending love, grace, and discipline in an environment of trust and respect.  It might not make the difference you want today, but it will make an impact on your children… and their children… for the rest of your lives.

Sometimes we think Godly parenting is all about getting it all right, measuring up to some ridiculous standard, and raising perfect kids.  It’s not.  Godly parenting is all about parenting with total dependence on God… especially when our kids are testing boundaries.  Wait until your kids are adults before you deem yourself a bad parent.  You’re doing better than you think.

*Footnote: I did not link the referenced blog by the 19 year old because I mean no criticism to her or her heart in writing the article.  I applaud her for striving to seek God and to live her life according to His ways.  I do think some parents who are dealing with rebellion issues might find her thoughts a little defeating in the moment.  I simply wanted to share a different view of encouragement.

a life lived for others
September 28, 2011, 9:49 am
Filed under: God, leadership, life, marriage, parenting, people, relationships

Recently under the influence of one of my students, I’ve been hooked on an iPhone app called “Eden.”  Its basically a building-block game in which you can create your own world, from mountains to canyons to seas and even trampolines, water slides, and houses!  For the creative types like myself it can be  pretty exciting and highly addictive… especially in the beginning.  There is such a thrill in creating.  Or maybe the rush is in having full control of my own little world.

One day, I did not feel the thrill or the excitement.  That’s pretty normal when you play iPhone games.  The usual entertainment factor wears off after a few days.  Remember when everyone used to play Words with Friends?  This was different though.  There I was – creating, building, doing what ever I wanted to in my own little world – and a strange though popped into my head:

“I wish I could create people.  I wish I had someone to share this with.”

This world is so cool and fun, yet I have no one to share it with.  I had created a whole world that no one could really live in or enjoy or benefit from in anyway.  While it may seem a little ridiculous considering I’m talking about a video game, another thought popped into my head.  This one is much deeper and much more challenging:

“Life is not meant to be alone.”

I can’t help but think of Genesis 1 when I play this little game, and I think I am beginning to understand a little more of God’s logic in creation.  The existence of the world, in all of its wonder and intricacies, is more than enough to glorify God’s greatness.  Yet, He still chose to create human beings because life is not truly lived until it is lived in relationship with others.  God is not satisfied and He does not rest until He was someone to enjoy His creation, to benefit from His grace, and to share in His love.

We all spend a great deal of time in “our own little world.”  We may not be playing video games or organizing the cosmos, but we do create for ourselves – for our benefit, for our enjoyment, for our pleasure.  We look for how others can benefit us.  We look for how we can use circumstances to better our situation.  We look for how we can make more money, make more time, and get more things for ourselves.  Everything and everyone around us becomes nothing more than building blocks we use to construct what WE want out of life with no concern to others.  But there will always come a point when we discover we are so unsatisfied and so restless.  Could it be that we are living our lives the wrong way because we are living and striving and creating for no one but ourselves?

God is not satisfied and He does not rest until He has someone to enjoy His creation, to benefit from His grace, and to share in His love.  We are created in His image, so why should we expect our lives to be any different?

A life is not truly lived until it is lived for others.  The question for today is not “what do I need?”  The question is “what do they need?”  Be God’s provision for someone else today.  Create a world that benefits others!

unproductive love
June 2, 2011, 1:13 pm
Filed under: leadership, parenting, relationships, religion

I have this thing to do today.

It is not on my “To Do” list.  It is not part of my job description.  I haven’t been asked to do it.  And, if I’m honest, I don’t want to do it.

It is very likely that nothing productive will come from this thing.  It is going to require my time… lots of time, time I could use to do other things, productive things, things that are on my “To Do” list and job description.  It is going to require my energy.  This thing is going to cost me.  And after I give my time and energy, I very well may have no “product” to show for it.  It is very possible that nothing could come from it… at all.

Nothing that benefits me at least.

There is a small chance, however, that this thing could result in at least one person discovering the love of Christ and coming to the realization that they are worth being loved and being sacrificed for.   That small chance could make all the difference in at least one person’s life.

That’s a chance worth taking.  Even if it does take up a lot of my time and energy, it is a chance worth taking.  Even if I have no product or any measure of usefulness at the end of the day, this is a chance worth taking.  Even if this thing is not on my “to do” list or in my job description, this is a chance worth taking.  Even though the odds suggest that this won’t work at all, this is a chance worth taking.

To share the love of Christ is always, always, always a chance worth taking.  We, as a church and as church leaders, so desperately need to understand this concept.

“Serve one another in love.”  – Galatians 5:13-14

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house on the rock

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?   – Luke 6:46

A while back I was talking with one of my students about life in general.  Somehow we started talking about driving and speeding as I explained to him that I did not speed anymore.  Back in college I sped a little too much, got a few too many tickets, and almost lost my license.  All of those little tickets added up to create a big problem down the road.  I knew I had a couple of tickets, but I always paid them off and for a few weeks obeyed the law to a T.  I didn’t realize the points were adding up on my record.  It was a great lesson, not only on obeying the law, but about how little things can add up to big problems if we are not vigilant in our pursuit of holiness.

Last week I was taking my oldest son to school.  It was one of those mornings.  We were running late.  This was not a good day to run late.  This was not a good day to see police lights in my rear view mirror either.  I felt so stupid because I wasn’t even paying attention.  Or maybe subconsciously I knew I was speeding but I was too focused on getting what I wanted (to school on time) that I ignored the consequences.  Either way, I was very surprised when the county’s finest pulled out behind me.  I owned up to my mistake, apologized to the officer, and fortunately he gave me a warning.  I could get on with my day.

At noon I got the text message: “Did I see you getting a ticket this morning?  I thought you didn’t speed.”  Of course it was from my student.  I quickly replied, “No – you saw me getting a warning.”  Like that made it any better? We had a good laugh about it, but the damage had been done.

Of course later in person I explained to him the whole story, my lack of attention, etc.  I owned up to my mistake and told him my plan to use cruise control on that road from now on so I wouldn’t have any more slip ups.  The whole thing is pretty embarrassing – here I am “proclaiming the truth” with my mouth and living out something completely different for the world to see.  I either need to keep my mouth shut until my body can comply, or I need to start living differently in a few areas of my life.

I think that’s why Jesus is so passionate about truthful living, as he asks this question.  Why would you call me your “Lord,” if you intend to disobey me anyway?  Either live out what I am teaching you or don’t call me Lord.  I know when I examine my life, my desire is always for Jesus to be my Lord.  And while I’m not robbing banks or murdering anyone, I am getting pulled over by local police among other “little” sins.  The little sins add up, and not just for me – for everyone in my sphere of influence.  My family.  My students.  My friends.

Jesus goes on to teach one of his most famous parables about the two builders.  One builds on the rock and one on the sand.  The storm comes.  The house on the rock stands firm, but the house on the sand is washed away.  The idea is that when we base our behaviors and actions on the beliefs Jesus teaches, we will stand firm.  I’ve always understood that if I don’t base my actions on Jesus teachings that I will be “washed away.”  But the older I get the more I understand that Jesus is saying in this passage that if I don’t live my life based on His teachings, then everything I have built – everything I have worked for, everything I have labored for – is in danger of being knocked down.  And what an effect that could have on the people closest to me.

In an age when former governors and movie stars are confessing illegitimate children from 10 year old affairs, French presidential candidates are being arrested for rape, and even churches are finding themselves in moral ambiguity,  it is more important than ever that we who call ourselves Christians make sure that our mouths are writing checks that our lives can afford.  As leaders, as parents, as spouses, as teachers, as members of community – we need to be building our house on the rock. This is not just for our personal sake, but for those around us.  They need us to live authentic lives of faith.

Jesus is not teaching us to stop calling Him Lord, but rather He is challenging us to live in full faith and full belief and full commitment to His way.  The beauty of this passage is that when we DO live according to Jesus’ teachings, when our lives and our actions reflect our calling of Jesus as Lord, we build something strong for ourselves and for those around us.  As the world inevitably crumbles around us, God’s word will stand true and firm and our lives will be a refuge that others can cling to (Psalm 1).

May we find encouragement today.  May we who call ourselves Christians, who call to Jesus “Lord, Lord;” may we do what He says.  Such lives could truly change the world.  Lord, give us strength.

not perfect

A few weeks ago I was attending a school assembly in the gym of my son’s elementary school gym.  It was very exciting, as I’m sure you can imagine, complete with the child-size chairs they make the adults sit in.  You’ve never felt more confident then sitting in a gym full of adults talking about adult things with your knees up to your ears like you’re using a toilet in India… okay, you get the point.

As exciting as the night was, I did lose focus for a few moments as I noticed a white board leaning against the wall, as if they had cancelled some activity in the middle of the action in order to host the assembly.  I took a picture because it amused me so, and I think you’ll be amused too… 

Now, I’m guessing there was some lesson about perfection going on here, but I’m not sure how far it got.  It looks like the kids started in the right direction, listing things like “rotten food,” “old cheese,” and, yes, “Michael Vick.”  But then they got a case of the funny bones and just got silly, adding “Barney,” “Elmo,” and “Fat Albert.”  They could have just been listing things they were afraid of though, because “sharks” and “the devil” are also on the list.  Loss of points for repetition though – Barney and the devil are one in the same.  If you don’t believe me, just play that “I love you” song backwards and see how it turns out.

All jokes aside, one item on this list did stop me dead in my tracks.  Right there among “burnt biscuits” and “the devil”, as close to the middle as possible, someone had written “My Dad.” 

I was saddened, and I still am.  I know that no one is perfect, especially when it comes to fatherhood.  But to be so bad at it that your child throws your name out during a public class discussion of “things and people we dislike” is just… well… not good.  I don’t know if this kid was serious or not, but this board seriously spoke to me.

In the grand scheme of things all of our names should be on that board. I may not fight pit bulls or attack surfers, but I am definitely not perfect.  When I first read this list I subconciously compared myself to the things and people listed and started a ranking.  At first glance I put myself on top, because I think I’m a pretty decent guy. 

But then I read “my dad,” and I couldn’t stop reading it.  I love my children, but I know there are some things I’ve messed up and plenty of situations I have not handled correctly.  I had my own private confessional right there in that tiny chair.  Its funny: in realizing how not perfect I am, I actually became a better dad and a better person.  I guess this is what James is talking about when he says, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up (James 4:10).” 

We all need a strong dose of reality every once in a while… okay, on a daily basis.  When we realize who we really are and how weak we really are, it will help us live life the way it is meant to be lived: in humility, totally dependent on God.  But when we forget who we are and how weak we arelly are, we begin making mistakes. 

And if we’re not careful we may just end up on a white board in an elementary school gym.

May you go forth in humility today.

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