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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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.

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.

clear parenting

I have two boys, ages 6 and 3.  By default they are energetic.  I like to say they put the “ow” in “rowdy.”  The other day they were being particularly rowdy, and a little obstinate – definitely had some “ear clogs,” if you know what I mean.  We had a slight conflict of interest as I was trying to get them ready for the day: eat breakfast – brush teeth – put on clothes – take your baby sister out of the trash can – that kind of stuff, and the boys were more concerned with who could make the loudest bodily function noises.  As my frustration grew I found myself saying one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in a long time.  It just came out.  I guess it was a reflex that comes from my job of working with teens.  At my low point of the morning, when I felt like I had lost all control, this is what I said to my two children who are 6 and 3 years old:

“Will you two just cut it out?!  You are acting like children!!”

The absurdity of the statement hit me right away, and my wife and I both had a pretty good laugh.  Even my 8 month old daughter gave me a look that suggested, “You’re a moron.”  She’s wise beyond her year.  The only way I could have sounded or looked more ridiculous is if I had a bad mullet and hand-gestured the “cut it out” part like Dave Coulier in “Full House.” 

In my heart I was embarrassed most because what happened is in my top 10 list of bad parenting traits: Unrealistic Expectations.  Everyday I see parents who expect too much of their children.  They want their children to make an A in every class, to start varsity in every sport, to be friends with the most popular, to have a job, to do chores without complaining, to bathe on a daily basis, and the list goes on.  The result?  Everyday I also see kids who are cracking under the pressure: alcohol use, drug use, petty theft, premarital sex, disrespect of authority, and the list goes on.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I too want to see students succeed and do their best, but I think we have to be realistic.  Sometimes a student’s best is a B, instead of an A or an every other day shower instead of daily hygeine.  Have you ever witnessed a teen never complain about chores?  We have to know our children, know what they are capable of, know what motivates them, and love them as they are. 

My boys are too young to even understand the concept of time and being late.  They can’t comprehend not having enough time to laugh, so why should I expect them to?  I just have to prioritize and act around a clear expectation that the morning routine is going to take a little longer than I’d like it to.  There are other situations, other days, when my boys are not “on their game.”  My role as a Father is not so much to change who they are, but to love them as they are.  I cannot fully love them until I fully know them, and in fully knowing them I know what to realistically expect from them.  Over time they will grow into who they are meant to be if I love them well.  Too many parents don’t take the time to know their children, to find out what their children want out of life.  As a result they have expectations based on who they think their children are and who they think their children should be, which leads to unrealistic expectations.

The bible says it like this in Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  The bible does not say “train a child in the way you want him to go”  or even “train a child to go the way everyone else is going.”  God’s word is simple and clear – find out how God uniquely created your child and help your child find God’s unique direction for his life. 

 The best expectation we can have for our children is that they will know who they are and who they are meant to be.  99% of teen mistakes are made due to peer pressure, teens trying to fit in with the expectations around them.  This pressure starts at home when idiot dads tell their first graders to stop acting like children.  If I don’t truly know my children, then I don’t know what to expect.  Nothing will disappoint a child more than to realize his own parents do not know who he is.  True love is true knowledge.

What better way to lead my children thanteaching them to be true to themselves?  That starts with me being true to them.  Clear expectations are key.

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cast your burdens
April 2, 2008, 1:15 am
Filed under: life, people | Tags: , ,

The other day my family decided to take a beach day.  We’ve been going hard and working hard and needed a little quality time, so we hit the beach to relax and play and just be with each other.  My wife and I were having a great time just playing with our two boys.  A grandmother and her grandson were walking down the beach and suddenly stopped next to us.  Her grandson, being the same age as my son, was interested in what we were playing.  The grandmother instructed him to introduce himself, and my son, being the socialite that he is , introduced himself back.  Then the grandmother asked my 4 year old son (not me or my wife) if her grandson could play with him for a little while, to which my son, the socialite that he is, said yes. 

What happened next has perplexed me for days.  Upon making the proper introductions and luring out an invitation for her grandson, walked away.  She actually said, “Well, that settles it.  Everyone is happy now.”  She then walked about 50 yards down the beach and sat down in her chair and proceeded to have her own personal beach day.

Everyone was not happy.  Our family time, our escape had now been invaded.  We had been scammed into a play-date.  We had unwillingly become the babysitters of a complete stranger.  And for the next half hour we were responsible for another person’s child that we did not even know.

In reflection, I realize that perhaps this grandmother needed a break from looking after the kid.  He is young and full of energy, and she was old and I’m sure a little tired.  But does that give her the liberty to pawn her kid off on us?  She felt burdened, and she cast that burden on us.

You may think I’m overreacting, but think about it.  She didn’t know anything about us.  We didn’t know anything about us.  What if her grandson took off and ran into the ocean?  What if he stepped on an oyster shell and cut his foot open?  What if he just got up and ran as fast as he could down the beach?  Am I responsible?  I felt that I was, and that was a burden I was not ready to carry for a complete stranger.

I still don’t know how to respond, and I guess that is why I’m blogging.  On one hand, as a Christian, I feel that I should be willing to understand her burden, her weariness, and I should be willing to help her out for a little while.  On the other hand, the whole reason we came to the beach was to relieve our own burdens, and now we just felt more burdened.

I think we often do this.  We cast our burdens on other people.  We feel so overwhelmed by life and situations, we feel helpless, and we put responsibility on other people to carry our burdens for us.  In the context of some relationships, this is okay, this is the way it should be.  I will gladly take on a family member’s burdens.  I will gladly take on a co-worker’s burdens.  I should – these are people I’m connected to.  But what about the complete stranger?  Am I responsibly for the poor and the hungry?  Am I responsible for the drug addict?  Am I responsible for the over-stressed grandmother on the beach?

Often I would say that I am not.  But I’m beginning to think that I am.

 I Peter says to cast your burdens on the Lord, because he cares for you.  I Peter also says to be holy as the Lord is holy, which basically means, be like God.  And if he willingly takes on people’s burdens, then maybe we should to.

What are your thoughts?

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