In defense of Facebragging, sort of

You know Facebragging— always only posting amazingly flattering pictures and giddy exclamations about how great life is. Your 857 friends roll their eyes but dutifully click “like” so you’re good and validated. Don’t be that guy.

However, if you read through my timeline, I’m aware that you’ll see tons of cute and funny kid pictures, lots of funny kid quotes, occasional links to things I find interesting, and not much else. Even on Twitter, where I’m purposefully more unfiltered, I don’t share much about bad days. Perhaps this makes me sort of a Facebragger. But I have reasons.

First, in the share-ALL-the-things moment we’re living in, it makes sense to have a bit of a filter. I’m all for being real, for permission not to be OK, all that. But I have… hang on a sec… 901 Facebook friends. (I feel like I crossed 1000 at some point. Hm.) I am under no obligation to be as “real” with all those people as I am with my wife, close friends, coworkers. The idea of 901 people knowing that the combination of sin, stress, and sinus headache is making me not at all fun to be around today is not appealing to me. If the first days of spring are making me glad I’m alive, I’m a little more likely to share that.

The second reason is one I feel more strongly about. My family is not perfect. We (yes, all of us) have tantrums and inappropriate talk and whining on a daily basis. But my family is also freaking fantastic. I am more than happy to highlight how much I love our adventures, and since we have friends on several continents I’m grateful for how Facebook lets us see and share day-to-day stuff. When one of our kids is having a hard day or does something embarrassing, that’s not to share with everybody. If a picture or story doesn’t communicate “this kid is awesome and I love being their dad,” it’s not going online. One day, my kids will be able to look through my digital footprint or whatever, and I hope that’s their takeaway: Dad always loved being my dad.

I don’t suggest we Facebrag, selectively sharing to make our life look like a comparatively flawless paradise of awesomeness. Facebook permanently proved its worth to us when Eliza was sick, allowing us to easily share what was going on and helping mobilize people to pray. Just this week I learned via Facebook of a crushing blow suffered by some friends we’re not in close touch with anymore, and I was able to grieve and pray for them. I appreciate honesty in any and every forum.

I do suggest we think about what and why we’re sharing. Christians in particular are to let our speech be gracious, seasoned with salt. I suspect Paul would also say something like “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, post about these things.”

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95 5 Theses on kids and ministry

I jotted these down in 2010 as we were starting out in Prague. As our kids get older they’re becoming more relevant. They’re especially true for us as “professionals” (sorry Dr. Piper), but I think they’d apply to any family seeking to serve Jesus in their daily life.

1. Kids are not a distraction from ministry; in fact our kids are our first and most important ministry. They will sacrifice for the kingdom like we will, but we will not do ministry at the expense of raising our children in the nuture and admonition of the Lord. Sometimes we’ll have to say no to good ideas because our kids need us.

2. Our family is called to serve the God’s kingdom together. We want to involve the kids in this service and teach them it’s our joy to lay down our lives for the sake of the kingdom.

3. Letting others see our family loving each other well, including repenting and forgiving, is a great opportunity for ministry both to believers and nonbelievers.

4. Integrating our kids into ministry will give us the opportunity to bless those who long for family, especially singles and young marrieds, by welcoming them into ours.

5. Being joyfully involved in our kids’ lives will give us opportunities to get to know other families, including parents we otherwise wouldn’t have an inroad with.

Greener grass

A couple of weeks ago Melissa had a guest post on our friend Annie’s blog. Side note: our friend Annie is a real writer, and a good one. Check out her book, especially if you have tween or teenage girls.

Melissa’s post was about how single women can love their mom friends. We’ve heard a good bit of advice on how married folks can love (and be sensitive to) singles– advice we need and appreciate– and not much going the other way. I am far from objective but thought her post was terrific. Also, Annie the Real Writer had a good response the next day.

One theme that emerged in the comments was that singles and parents want what each other has. Parents (myself included) look at our single friends and see sleeping late on Saturdays, spontaneous dinners out, freedom from worrying about whether somebody should go to the doctor, etc. But mostly the sleep. I cannot emphasize this enough.

At the same time, singles look at families and see love with security, a deep sense of home, belonging. For many, the family with kids and all the craziness that whole scene brings is the picture of what they want, and fear they might not get. I remember how much I ached for kids of my own, even when surrounded by friends’ kids I loved.

The grass is always greener on the other side.

It’s tempting to respond to this tendency with a sort of equivalency argument. “Well, some things are better about being single; some things are better about being married with kids.” But that’s kind of cheap. It’s not a zero sum game. I do miss sleep (and Melissa misses a lot more of it), but I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything. I love our family life, but it means other relationships go on the back burner. Less time to do things that are fun and good. There are gains and there are losses, and to try to equal them out cheapens both.

When we have our “grass is greener” moments, we shouldn’t indulge them and grow bitter at those who have what we want. But maybe we shouldn’t talk ourselves out of them with “well, at least” arguments, either. I think, instead, we must acknowledge that there is much that is beautiful and much that is hard in every season. The hard doesn’t take away the beauty, nor the beauty the hardness. They’re both just there. We can relish one, mourn the other, and know that most of both is temporary. The greenest pastures here have nothing on those beyond. And there we’ll get all the rest we need.

Sprints and marathons: an encouragement for parents in the trenches

A snapshot of Bible time at our house, when it happens.

Dad. Do you guys remember the name of the man we’ve been talking about? The one who built the boat?

Foard. Owen.

Sam. NO FOARD, it was NOAH.

Foard. Oh. Noah. HEY I KNOW NOAH! (He does.)

Dad. Sam, please use kind words with Foard. Yes, it was Noah.

Foard. Yeah. Noah. And if there were bears that came into our house, they would make a mess. And Daddy would say “Who made this mess?” (This was part of an illustration to the Noah story, weeks ago when we started it.)

Dad. Yes. Ok, so God told Noah to build a boat…

Sam. And Dad, did you know that Changer-Man can change into a boat? He can change into ANYTHING.

Dad. OK, but we’re not talking about superheroes right now, it’s Bible time and I want you guys to listen.

Foard. Yeah, and I’m SNEAKY-MAN. I’m Sneaky-Man, Sam is Changer-Man, Mommy is Power Girl, and Eliza is… what’s Eliza’s superhero name again?

<threat against more talking>

<cursory reading of brief Bible passage, skipping over non-central points>

<quick selection of 1 of the 3 application questions in the book>

Dad: Let’s pray.

And scene.

For my last two years in college, I was very consistent in spending the first 30-45 minutes of the day in the Bible and prayer. I don’t have an explanation for it (I see that hand. Yes, the Holy Spirit. Thank you.); I just locked into a routine: Wake up, make coffee, open Bible.

I don’t remember a single insight or “Aha!” moment I had during that time, though I’m sure there were some. I have the journals somewhere. I do remember that the last several months of school, I went through a serious spiritual desert– never felt anything, it was hard to pray, etc. But as I look back, those 2 years were probably one of the top three times of spiritual growth I’ve had in my life.

Similarly, I doubt that my kids will ever think “There was a Tuesday in September of 2012 when my dad told us how the Flood reminds us that God will rescue his people from his own wrath. Awesome insight.” But God willing, they’ll remember that a lot of the time, after dinner we’d sit and talk about the Bible. Because whether we’re talking about our own devotional time or our frantic attempts to teach our kids, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the results come in years, not days.

Hang in there, fellow trench warriors. We’re playing a long game.

The best kind of heartache

You get married, and the thought of kids is terrifying. The loss of freedom, the sudden responsibility, the questions about money. After a few years the terror subsides– hey, this could be fun. Gotta start sometime. So you talk, you make plans, you dream. Then real life happens: you don’t just check a box and get a baby. Biology has a role, and it doesn’t always cooperate. So you wait and hope and pray and are disappointed. You read books and visit doctors and have well-meaning people say “The second you stop thinking about it!” Your perspective changes. You wonder how you ever thought this could be an inconvenience.

Then, it happens! The drug works, or you actually do stop thinking about it and it actually helps, or the agency calls with good news. And while you’re celebrating and laughing and picking out paint colors, it hits you: this could break my heart. One more person in whose life your own is now inextricably tied up. One more set of potential catastrophes that could turn your world upside down. One more subject of desperate prayers: “Please don’t let anything happen.”

After a near-infinite series of miracles, with cells dividing and heart beating and good movement (now? now? now?), this new gift arrives in your house. Before you’re home from the hospital, your world has changed. He has nothing to offer, makes incessant demands, and you have never loved anything so much in your life. You didn’t know you had the capacity to love like this.

Or to hurt like this. Because nothing is guaranteed. A normal pregnancy doesn’t guarantee a normal birth doesn’t guarantee a healthy baby doesn’t guarantee a healthy child. And even if they stay healthy and breathe all night (now? now? now?), one day they will hurt. Kids won’t play nice, or friends will move away, or you’ll move away, or the favorite toy will be lost, or the boyfriend will turn out to be a jerk. Their hearts will get broken. And in all likelihood they’ll break yours.

You add to the brood and the love you thought couldn’t get any bigger grows. It has room for more. More joy, more amazement, more laughter, and yes: more vulnerability. More possibilities of disaster. You would do anything, you would give everything you had in you, to protect these little people from the slightest hurt, from any little disappointment. But you can’t, and even if you could, you know you shouldn’t. Life will hand them beautiful and terrible things, so you try to prepare them for both.

You pray, you play, you discipline, you teach. You read the same book 12 times a week. You look forward to them being bigger, and then you cry because they’re getting bigger so fast and you miss the little them. It is so exhausting, so hard, so fun, so beautiful, so good. And you’ll never be done. One day they’ll leave, but the love will never stop, and the responsibility will never stop, and the vulnerability will never stop because the potential for heartbreak will never stop. Not in this world.

Worth it? You bet. This is the best kind of heartache there is.

Honest love songs

We need songs that say “you’re the greatest thing ever and I love you.” But there are lots of those songs.

There aren’t very many songs that say “Man, is this hard sometimes, but we’re not gonna quit.” You get a decade or so into marriage, throw some kids in the mix, (live in a foreign-to-you country?) and songs that say that really start to mean something.

Here are two recent favorites.

If you really want to understand something, explain it to a four-year-old.

I learned this lesson from a favorite seminary professor, who suggested that pastors make sure you have lots of opportunities to teach young children.

Yesterday’s questions:

  • “Why is his name God?”
  • “What is the internet?”

On #2, I later realized that an equally accurate answer would have been “I don’t really know, son.”

How to teach Revelation to a three-year-old

At dinnertime a couple of weeks ago, John’s vision in Revelation 12 came up. (What, it didn’t at your house?)

How did I explain this strange passage to Sam? I told him there was a big red dragon. Very scary, with horns and multiple heads and all that. Then I told him about how God and the dragon had a fight, and God beat the dragon and threw him out of heaven. And Sam’s three and a half, and you know he ate. that. up. He’s still talking about it.

There’ll be plenty of time later to fill in the blanks. But for now, Sam’s takeaway is that God is very cool, and that he kills dragons. In fact, according to Sam, “God is the biggest, strongest, ever!

And that’s exactly what John wanted his readers to get.

She’s even better than you think she is.

My attempt to praise my wife in the city gates on her birthday (the day after, actually).

Stick with it, dads.

This is a clip from a couple of years ago of Abraham Piper introducing his father at a conference. I’m posting it not so much as a Piper admirer as a dad who has lots of parenting ahead of him.

Abraham mentions several things his dad did: discipline, rowdy playing, listening, wise counsel. A lot of these weren’t fun at the time, and Abraham actually left the faith for a few years. But this video shows a young godly father talking about how much he loves and appreciates his own godly father.

Stick with it, fellow dads. God is faithful, and by his grace the results of our steady plodding in parenting can be great.