Offloading Your Kids, Early and Often

June 14, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We met my parents at Fergusons restaurant near Marshall for lunch on Saturday.  They then took our girls back to Branson for a few days.  It’s been about 36 hours now and this is when I really start to miss them.  They say they miss me, but water slides and roller coasters tend to make my girls forget that they even have parents.  I digress, as always.   We have done this a lot over the last 12 years, not the meet at Fergusons, but the offloading of kids to grandparents for days of eating bad, partying hard, and sleeping rarely.

Being at Fergusons reminded me of one of the first times that we did this.  Maylee was 2 and Lauren was still internally attached to her mom.  We met my folks there and we had not told Maylee that she was leaving with Mimi and Rowr (my parents).  She had spent the night with them before and been fine, but we didn’t know how she would react to know in advance, so we said nothing.  After lunch (It might have been a late breakfast.  Does that even matter?), we walk outside.  Maylee gets ahead of all of us, opens Mimi’s car, sits in the back middle seat, buckles herself with the lap belt and then doesn’t make eye contact with anyone.  We all start laughing.  She has this look on her face that says, “I don’t know what you think the plans are, but I am going wherever the people in this car are going.”  Lucky for us, that was the plan.

From the time both of our children were little, they have had no anxiety about spending the night or a week with either sets of grandparents, other family friends, going to camp, whatever.  They both are very adventurous and brave.  A summary of your likely reactions :

1) “You evil ogre of a father.  You left your kids with other people over night at age 2?  You should be ashamed”  It’s worse than that.  They were both 15 months when we first did that, as soon as they were no longer externally attached to their mom (We’re all adults here, right?).

2) “I’m so jealous.  I can’t get my spouse to agree to stuff like that.”

3) “You are so lucky.  My kids would never do something like that.”

I have heard all three of those reactions.  People have said, in one form or another, all of that to me.  Here is what I believe–whether or not spending the night away from parents is scary to a kid is almost exclusively a function of the parents’ attitudes.  Little kids think that anything that is new is scary.  Anything that is different is scary.  Anything that is unknown is scary.  It is our job to tell them what is our is not scary. (I have talked about this before, with regard to speaking to adults and roller coasters.  See here.) 

Be honest, it is you that are scared to leave your kids with family for a couple of days.  It is you that gets nervous when you drop your kid off at their class at church.  Right?  “No Cloften, you big judgmental jerk.  You should see how scared they get when I drop them off.”  Of course they do, they are feeding off of you.  You tell them that they are going to have fun, that you love them and walk away.  Then, they have fun and are significantly less anxious the next time.  Hopefully you will be too.

Now I know that even the most confident of kids will go through some separation anxiety.  Some day I will tell you about the time when toddler Lauren literally tore down the walls in her class (It was a make-shift hallroom class made of temporary walls.)  You know what fixed it?  Consistently dropping her off with no drama from us, never going to “check on her” (which translated means, calming my own nervous heart), and lots and lots of Teddy Grahams.

In what I want for my girls, closely behind passionate love for God, respect and kindness, is confidence.  I want my girls to believe that they can go through life, depending on God and believing confidently that they can be and do whatever it is that God has called them to be.  I never want their fear and insecurity to hold them back.

There are some things that are scary.  Snakes–scary.  Dudes in trenchcoats with candy–scary.  Life–not so much.

A-Team Movie Review

June 12, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

Went to see A-Team yesterday.  I wasn’t planning on seeing it but Heidi was out with the girls and some of their friends and there was a showing on the house.  I was going to see Shutter Island at the dollar theater, but it must have ended on Thursday.  Anywho,  A-Team stars Qui-Gon/Oskar Schindler/Rob Roy/Aslan as Hannibal, that scary MMA guy, no the other one, as B.A. Baracus/Mr. T., that dude that I know from Alias, but some of you know from the Hangover as Face, and some dude that they grabbed off the street as Murdoch.  It also has that girl from 7th Heaven who is now famous for being famous as the stereotypical wet-blanket female lead in an action movie and Rick Simon from Simon and Simon (Boom! Dated reference).

Expectations: My expectations were pretty low.  I loved the A-Team growing up and Hollywood does not have a great track record of remaking 80’s classics.  On the other hand, it has Liam Neeson which means there is a 99% chance that the movie will be great (I would have said 100, but I recently saw Clash of the Titans).  So, all put together I’m thinking better than G.I. Joe, probably about as good as Scooby Doo.

Reality: Dude.  No really, DUDE! I could not have been more wrong.  That movie was incredible.  Perhaps it was because my expectations were so low, but a few hours later I looked at Heidi and said, “I can’t get over how good that was.”  Heidi, as always, humors me.  The action sequences were very good.  They took what made the TV show great and brought it to the big screen very well.  The four main characters were cast very well.  Liam Neeson is, of course, amazing.  Bradley Cooper did well as Face.  Rampage Jackson did a great job of being a scary B.A. without jacking Mr. T’s style.  That dude that was Murdoch was hilarious.  He may have launched a career, but it would be hard for me to imagine him as a non-insane character.  It’s essentially their back story, which sets us up, I hope for some sequels.  I cannot recommend this movie enough, if you like fun action movies.

Appropriateness: In contrast to the TV show, there is some language.  There are no F-bombs and there is not a lot of it, but there is some language.  Also, in contrast to the show, people do actually get hit by the large quantities of bullets that get shot.  Obviously, there is some violence but nothing particulary gory.  I would take my teenager to it.  Well not mine.  First I don’t have one, and the one that almost is one does not like action movies.

Rating: (Here is the system)

See it in the theater and will definitely own

See it in the theater and might own

See it in the theater and will likely rent it

See it in the theater and be done

See it at the dollar theater

Rent it

Avoid it.

I rate it a see it in the theater and will definitely own it.  Anybody want to go see it again?  Seriously.

Selling Houses and the Will of God

June 10, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

My history with selling houses is well-known.  For those who don’t know, we have moved twice when needing to sell a house, once from Conway, AR to Colorado for seminary.  The second was from St. Louis here to Cabot, AR.  When moving to Colorado, our house sat empty for almost 6 months before it sold.  When moving to Cabot, we did a little bit better.  The house only sat empty for a little less than 5 months before it sold.

I don’t know if you have ever been in that kind of a situation before.  You may be one of those people with those stories of how you sold your house in an hour for a more than full price offer.  If you are, I’m not sure this post is for you. You can wait for the “People That Annoy Me” post (just kidding…mostly).  If you’ve been in this situation before, you know that it can become quite a serious time of theological reflection.  Our house is on the market for the third time as we prepare to make a move.  We are far from the theological crisis time, but this topic is just on my mind now as we try to sell our house again.

Here are the choices that most people have:

1) I must be making the wrong decision.  If this move were God’s will, my house would have sold.

2) God is punishing me because I am in some kind of sin.

3) God is trying to teach me something.  As soon as I learn it, the house will sell.

Let’s see if we can break these down and still keep this to the size of a blog post.  The first option, I believe, is a very dangerous theological perspective to have.  I evaluate whether or not I am making, or made,  the right decision based on if my circumstances are working out well, i.e. the way I want them to.  There are many times that Paul followed God’s call on his life and ended up beaten, shipwrecked, emprisoned, etc.  Following God is not a guarantee that everything is going to go smoothly.  In fact, often the opposite is true.  The path that God calls us to is often riddled with trials.  You have to do the work of prayer and discernment on the front end, asking God if this is the right move, change, etc.  Then you have to move forward with confidence, because very often difficult circumstances await.

The second option is a little difficult.  I certainly am not going to say that there is no way that you are experiencing a trial because of sin in your life (I’m not going to say you are, either).  Evaluating yourself and your sin is a great idea.  Asking God if there is any sin that is damaging your relationship and keeping him from blessing you–also a good idea.  One note of caution, if God can only bless us if we have no sin in our life, you know who is in trouble?  That’s right.  All of us.  Sometimes our sin can bring judgment in our lives.  Deal with it, if that is the case.  However, don’t assume that every obstacle in your life is connected to sin.

The third option, I have ranted on before.  It in fact, kicked off the Stuff Christians Should Stop Saying series (see here).  What I was not saying then and don’t what to say here is that trials, don’t exist (at least in part) so that God can teach us something.  God was definitely teaching Paul dependence on Him.  Joseph learned a lot about humility in a pit, as a slave, in prison.  Here is the thing, God is always teaching us and refining our character.  However, most of the things that God is teaching and shaping in us, aren’t things that we “learn” as if it were Algebra.  When do you “learn humility?”  I am learning about humility.  I will never “learn” it as if I have completly conquered that issue, just as I will never learn patience and dependence on God.  God will be refining me in that area for the next 50 years of my life.  God is teaching us during trials.  The danger comes when we believe we can learn our way out of a trial, as if we are in control.

Maybe you have made a wrong decision and that’s why things are going badly.  Maybe your sin has caught up with you.  Maybe God is using this as an opportunity to refine a major area of character in your life to prepare you for something great.  But, it may just be that we live in a fallen world where bad stuff happens.  I believe that we, read I, spend way too much time worrying about why and not near enough time listening to God and learning to trust and depend on Him. 

What if we took all of the energy that we wasted stressing about “why” and turned that into prayer, reading and studying about Joseph and Paul who went through worse trials than most of us?  What if we took that time to connect with God’s Son, Jesus who endured the worst of trials so that we could have life in him?

I’m Begging You, Say Something Meaningful (A Brief Political Rant)

I know that I have said many times that I don’t like to get into a lot of politics.  It’s not that I shy away from controversial things, it’s just that what the Bible says is controversial enough.  I certainly don’t want anyone to think that my public endorsement of a candidate or party represents the church, or certainly not God.  I know that seems spineless to you activists out there.  If you say something ugly on the comments, I might turn the why of those comments into a full blown blog post.

On the other hand, I am a political junkie.  I have a handful of web sites that I check regularly that are all over the spectrum.  I cross pollinate that with some talk radio and poltical TV that crosses the spectrum as well.  If you looked at what I watch, read, listen to, etc. you still couldn’t guess my affiliation, if there is one.  However, I know that you can guess my poltical affiliation.  I agree with you, because don’t all reasonable, good-hearted, intellectual people agree with you? (Wow, I have already ranted 150+ words and haven’t even gotten to the topic)

I am fed up with the poltical rhetoric.  I hope that we get a small reprieve between now and the campaign this Fall.  People running for office will say some of the stupidest, vaccuous things.  Then we cheer like crazy people as if they have said something valuable.  An example:

Washington is broken.  It is time to tell Washington that the government serves the people.  Lobbyists, Washington insiders and the special interests have taken over.  Now is the time for the people to tell all of them that this is our country.  We have to put petty partisan politics aside.  I will reach across the aisle and set aside partisan bickering to do what is best for the American people.  Let’s send a message to Washington and the special interests that “we the people” are taking our government back.

You know who says that?  Everybody.  That was actually a pretty good political commercial that I wrote there in about 45 seconds (the time it took to type it).  Arent you inspired?  Aren’t you ready to vote for me? 

Does it really matter what my party affiliation is?  Does it matter how I will vote?  No, it doesn’t, because we are taking back Washington from the special inter…blah blah blah, shut up.  I would love to just rant about how politicians should stop talking in empty sound bites, but do you know why they talk that way?  Because people want to hear that.  We let them get away with it. 

Here’s something crazy.  Let’s evaluate candidates based on what they believe and how they will vote, rather than whether or not they say they are going to “stand up to the special interests.”  (Psst.  Let me tell you a secret.  Everything is a special interest.  Every cluster of people or individual has interests that are unique, read special, to them.  When a politician says he is going to stand up to special interests, they mean the people that have interests with which they disagree.  Meanwhile, truckloads of money of the groups that are eSPECIALly INTERESTed in their views will find their way to the campaign.) 

There are certain values that you have.  There are certain issues that are important to you.  Find out which candidate is most closely aligned to those values and vote appropriately.

If not, Big Business, Big Tobacco, Big Pharmaceuticals, Big Momma’s House, Big Lots, Wall Street, Sesame Street, Special Interests, .38 Special will win.  Then who will fix Washington?

(Thanks, I feel better now)

Calling Your Daughter “Dorkface” and the Need For Therapists

June 8, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Earlier this week, the Morning Rush on B98.5 in Central Arkansas (listen live here) did a segment on nicknames that you have for your kids or a nickname that you had as a kid.  As some of you may know, I am prone to texting in to this radio program on occasion.  I like saying funny things and then people hear them.  (That’s one of the main reasons I blog)  Well, I texted in some of the numerous nicknames that I have for my girls:

Maylee: Pip, Pipperpants, Sissy. Lauren: Lou, Squeak, Gooberfish, Dorkface.

As this was read on the air, the host comments, “Well, there’s a couple of dollars into the therapist’s jar.”  It was especially funny to me that she would say that, since I talk about my girls’ future therapists all the time.  Just last week I said, “When you are talking to your therapist in the future, try to remember that I sat and watched an iCarly movie with you.”  I even referenced my girls’ future need for a therapist on last week here

Anywho, what kind of dad would call his daughter Dorkface?  Aren’t you legitimately setting her up for a therapist?  Here’s the thing, though.  She is a dork.  So am I.  She wears that nickname as a badge of honor.  She doesn’t want to be “regular.”  She never has (good thing too).  We are dorks together, being who we are.  She’s not what a little girl is “supposed to be,” and her dad is not a “regular pastor.”  We are not trying to be rebels and be different for different sake.  We are just being who God has uniquely designed us to be.

Sometimes it is hard to embrace different in your child.  Often when that baby girl or baby boy comes out, we can close our eyes and imagine what he or she is going to be.  We map their lives out.  If we had such a plan with either of our girls, they shattered them many, many years ago.  We strongly believe that God designed our two precious girls and that he has a great plan for them to be used by him for their whole lives.  Our role is to help shape their values, character, point them to God, and then someday get out of the way and watch God use them to change the world.  One of them plans to be an actress/boutique owner and the other a cake designer/comedienne.  Well, ok then.

Am I messing my kids up and giving them fodder for future therapists? Sure, we all are.  But it is not from embracing my girls in how they are different, loving who they are, and being good enough friends with them to tease them. 

Loving my little Dorkface is reducing that bill not adding to it.  Now, you call her that, and I might take you out.  Don’t make me get all “Papa Bear” on you.  That’s my nickname, BTW.

Embracing the Fishbowl

June 3, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Well, my older daughter has a FB page now.  We had a deal worked out, in part because of the move and also as a reward for good grades.  You might would think that this is about to turn into a sappy blog post where I lament how old she is getting.  I’m going to save that one for when she asks to get her driver’s permit.  I know that some people are hesitant to allow there kids access to the social media.  However, the overwhelming number of people in her class already had one, so it can’t be too widespread.

Most people’s concerns come down to privacy issues.  People don’t want their children’s info or pictures “out there.”  The world is a scary place and there are a good number of Mervy McChestersons out there on the internets.  However we have some good controls in place that we feel good about.

But really, she is already “out there.”  If you don’t believe me, look at the banner on the top of this page.  There they are.   Click on the tag “parenting” or “daughters” at the bottom of this post.  Her pictures are out there, stories are out there.  Our life is the proverbial fish bowl.

Often I have heard pastors and their families complain about the fishbowl.  Why is everybody watching our every move?  Why do they scrutinize us so?  People get frustrated and discouraged by people watching them and feel like it is undeserved and unwanted pressure.

We say, “Bring it on.”  I don’t say that because I’m perfect.  I’m not.  We’re not.  If you look (and not very hard) you will see a man full of flaws with a family that is working on stuff the way that all families are.  However, I’m going to tell you about them, perhaps even before you see them.  You are going to know me and who I am, what I’m good at and what I’m not.  The same for my family.  We are out there for the world to see.

This calls us up.  We know that the world and the church need leaders and examples to follow.  However, no one needs someone who is pretending to be something that they are not, pretending to be perfect, pretending to have it all together.  The problem with living in a fishbowl is not that people can see, it is when you have things to hide.  Mind you, I go to lengths to protect my girls’ privacy.  They are never the villains in my stories.  If it is embarassing to them, you won’t hear about it from me.

But we as a family have been called by God to lead people and a local church.  Our lives are public lives.  Here’s the kicker.  So is yours.  Jesus said that you are the light of the world.  People are looking to you to find answers.  What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?  Can Jesus in your life really make a difference?  People are watching.  What are they seeing?

What I hope they see in us is a family that is not perfect, but is honest.  A family that loves God and loves each other.  A family that wants to honor God and be the people that he has called us to be.  We can’t fight the fishbowl, because that is where we live.  That’s where you live too.

Embrace the fishbowl.  Be transparent.   Be real.  Be somebody that people want to be.

Mowing Into the Empty Lot Next Door (A Metaphor for Growth)

June 2, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

On one side of our house there are three empty lots.  We have lived here for four years and there hasn’t been any change.  To some degree it feels like the lot backs (I guess sides) to a small woodland area.  It’s been nice.  You want to buy our house?

Also, for the last four years, just about every time that I mow, I have mowed about 2 inches into that empty lot.  For a little while it was grass.  Then it became small bushes and giant weeds.  Most recently it has been stuff that a reasonable person would not run over with his cheap push mower.  (Un)fortunately, I am not that reasonable.  Why would I do this, especially since I hate mowing?  Well, it makes our side yard look bigger.  (For the record, I have not moved the property stakes.)

What difference can a couple of inches make in the way your yard looks?  Well, not much really.  Except that I have been doing this for 4 years now.  We now, no exaggeration have about 8 feet of additional yard.  We have seeded grass over there, treated weeds, filled in dirt.  (Pretty silly for property we don’t own, I know)  But it looks great and we love it. 

What does this have to do with anything?  Great question.  Two inches is not that much, but over time makes a huge difference in the appearance of our yard.  So often, this is also how we grow in our relationship with God and in our character–two inches at a time.  Sometimes we wonder if we really are becoming more like Jesus, becoming the men and women that he has called us to be.  We don’t see it.  Perhaps you’re an anxious person and have been for some time, and it frustrates you that you still struggle with anxiety.  Maybe you get angry.  Maybe you have a judgmental spirit.

When we struggle with sin like this, often we just want it to go away, and it doesn’t seem to.  We can wonder if God is really working in our lives.  We grow impatient that we don’t see radical change in our lives, immediately.  If I can pop popcorn in the microwave in two minutes, shouldn’t God be able to root out my worst sins in less time than that?  Sure, he could, but how God often deals with us is one day at a time, one circumstance at a time, “two inches” at a time. 

Look back six months, a year, four years.  How has God grown you, changed you, matured you?  Are you the same person you were or are you slowly becoming more and more like His Son.  How much has God taught you in the journey?  He is not simply and suddenly removing all sin from your life, but buidling a relationship with you every day and you are building more trust in him every day.

Sometimes we will experience radical overnight change, but that is rarely the norm.  Also, there are some of us that aren’t walking with God at all, who are still the same person, if not worse, that we were 4 years ago.  (There may be a harsher blog post in your future).  However, I want this to be encouragement to the bulk of us who daily are trying to walk with God, please him, be genuine Christ followers, and experience the ups and downs and life.  God is working in your life.

Know that day by day God is reclaiming the yard of the empty lot of sin in your life two inches at a time.  (Cheesy and took the metaphor one step too far.  Success!!)

She Said What?

June 1, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

The fam and I went swimming over the weekend.  FYI, my girls would swim 24/7 given the opportunity.  They have been know to be in a swimming pool for 8 hours straight.  They have never even hinted that they were ready to go home. 

Anywho, the girls and I have a series of games that we play.  One is where one of us is on one side of the pool giving clues about something and the rest of us have to guess.  When we think we know, we have to swim across the pool and guess.  If wrong, we have to swim back.  I, as I am prone to do, ruin the integrity of the game by constantly swimming back and forth guessing random things.  (Item #412 on the list “Things Maylee and Lauren Will Have to Explain to Their Therapist”)

Maylee is “it” and gives the following clues:

This is a person

He has black hair

He is somone I admire more than anyone

He is my role model in everything

At this point, Lauren takes off swimming and guesses “Daddy.”  Maylee says that is right.  I am stunned.  Why?  Because I think it’s awesome that Maylee would still describe my mostly salt, salt-n-pepper hair as black.

Seriously, what did she just say?  I am whom she admires most in the world?  Role model in everything?  I can’t accurately explain the conflicted feelings of pride and absolute fear that I felt in that moment.  Now mind you, I have taught on numerous occasions to dads that what she said is what kids believe.  Even daughters, perhaps especially daughters.  It’s one thing to teach it to other people, it is another thing entirely to hear those words come out of my daughter’s mouth and to have the other daughter so quickly guess it.

Everything that I do is being watched.  Everything I say or do is being put into the category of “that’s the way to talk and act.”  Everything.  I’m sure that she has a filter to filter out the bad things that she hears me say or do, but I’m guessing that each one of those breaks her heart and/or confuses her in some way.  “Easy, Cloften, that’s way too much pressure.   Get back to what I came here for: mediocre cynical, humorous obervations about life and pop culture.”  I know that it’s a lot of pressure.  Believe me, I know.  The pressure is not from me though.  It is from your kids.  We would all do well to feel some of that pressure and do our best to live up to it.  We would also do well to learn to depend on a God who loves us and is helping us become like his son, Jesus, and to point our children to that same God.  Remember, though God is described very often as Father, so it continues to boomerang back on you dads.

On the positive side, though, our kids do look at us through rose colored glasses.  How do I know?  She said I have black hair.