“Get to the Chopper!” -Helicopter Parent

Helicopter parenting is a thing. There are books about it, spoofs of it, and it’s a wildly popular practice.

The long and short of it is that helicopter parents hover over their children in most every venue of life–school, sports, social, spiritual–in such a way that the child or teen (or young adult) is never really left to herself to survive or figure it out. Especially if that means stumbling or someone tripping them up.

Be childlike again and imagine this: a mom hovering over her son, keeping  a close watch over the grade book, seeing he didn’t do as well as he could have on an assignment. She lands the chopper at school, strides (somewhat passive aggressively–though you don’t know it right away) into the teacher’s work space, and proceeds to explain why Jimmy deserves a higher grade…any of the following arguments may ensue.

  • WE have been struggling over the last unit–and so have lots of other students. (Because hover parents usually stay connected with one another)
  • WE just aren’t getting the concepts.
  • WE were at a Circus Olay performance very late, and WE didn’t get enough sleep.

Notice the use of We. That’s mom acting as if she and her son are one. It’s a tell tale sign. In any case, the thrust of each argument is the same: my child is a victim. Of what? Not getting the grade I want him to have.

Are there legitimate reasons why Jimmy may have blown a test? Sure. Was he ill? Did someone in the family pass? Does he just flat out not get it? Those things are possible and do happen. Communication is key, of course.

This scene is playing out on every level, though. From kindergarten through college. Yes, college. I have heard professors speak of parents calling to argue about their kid’s grade, even on single assignments.

Whether it’s grades or a disagreement with another students, the helicopter parent is always alert and ready to intervene.

Smothering is a hard way for kids to grow, kind of like a fire. “We need this fire to get bigger and warmer and more beautiful.” “Smother it!” “Oh, okay.”

I have helicoptered over our oldest. Especially in public play scenarios–playground, soft play (AKA, Bring your kid here if you want sickness to spread through your household Play), etc.

I would keep a close eye on Ben (now 5). Waiting for someone to look at him the wrong way, run past him too fast and thus need my scolding (you’re welcome other parent staring at your phone), or in the event that he might fall, trip, stub his toe, get a hangnail, or look constipated.

I’ll admit it. I hovered. And it’s been hard to stop. To stop making sure he never gets scraped or has to struggle. To stop making excuses for why he colored outside of the lines more than other preschoolers (weak hands….mine are small, too….it’s the economy??).

And thankfully we have friends around us trying to prevent doing the same, so we can laugh about our neurosis together. There are things kids can’t fully do or think through themselves; that’s why parents matter. But some struggle is good.

Not letting them struggle when they’re safe in your care could lead to some silly and socially devastating experiences later. And to illustrate…

Image result for helicopter parents

Let your baby boy or sweet little princess feel some of the tension they will face evermore. In other words, coach them. Don’t take their place on the court.

They will eventually work alongside that difficult kid in class you’re trying to keep them away from. The coach who doesn’t always say something encouraging will be their boss. The players may be different, but the game will look pretty much the same.

God’s grace be to all of us trying to prepare kids for this world. It’s hard and vulnerable and tiring. And it’s so worth it.

Busy but Bored

I’ve read two authors whose books end up having more underlined than not, leading me at times to…dare I say…dog-ear pages (gasp). But I can’t help it. They’re both priceless. Their words are salve for the soul, especially the soul of a Christian leader. I am speaking of Eugene Peterson (whom I’ve blogged about before and before) and Henri Nouwen.

I have just begun The Dance of Life by Nouwen and already applied multiple sticky notes to mark sections, underlined, written lines to write about later, and so forth. The following is what made me go daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang, Henri. Tell me this doesn’t get into the nooks and crannies of your soul:

“It is remarkable how much of our life is lived without reflection on its meaning. It is not surprising that so many people are busy but bored! They have many things to do and are always running to get them done, but beneath the hectic activity they often wonder if anything is truly happening. A life that is not reflected upon eventually loses its meaning and becomes boring” (p.46). 

Remember that old Rascal Flatts song “I Melt”? Yeah, me neither. But I did.

Especially upon reading the phrase busy but bored. What an apt description of my life, so often due to a lack of reflection, a failure to frame experiences and responsibilities with purpose or intentionality.

If you’re busy but bored, perhaps it’s time to create some space to sit in silence, to stop the chatter–both internally and digitally, and to ask What’s the point of what I’m doing? How does this fit into God’s design? And then sit with it. It’s sometimes terrifying what we hear.

Grace be with you.

That Time I Wanted to Name Our Son Benjamin Franklin Mitchell

The creative writing teacher at the school where I teach put up a flyer for a contest, and on that flyer is a quote from Benjamin Franklin–“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

“Easy for you to say,” Ben. That’s what I think anyway. A world-traveler. One of the most brilliant men of his day, perhaps of this day as well. An innovator. Inventor. I wanted to name our firstborn Benjamin Franklin Mitchell. I got the Benjamin, but Patrick would have to suffice for that mysterious middle place. Ben wrote and did something worth writing, many somethings.

You may not know but I suffer from what’s called “Golden Age Syndrome.” At least that what’s the pedantic, self-consumed character in the movie Midnight in Paris calls it. When suffering from this affliction one believes that he or she would be happier or more fulfilled in a different age of history. I don’t have a particular age, preferably one where I wouldn’t die from the slightest infection or have to skin a beast for breakfast.

In the minds of dreamers–of which I am terribly given to–the present generally seems most dissatisfying. The past is tempting…mainly because it is known. And I can imagine myself in that already traversed landscape, usually as someone far more accomplished that the present me. The future, though, well that’s a vast unconquered land of bogeymen. Oh the possibilities! Oh what might I be in the land of “what ifs” and “one days”.  I’m an incredible vision caster in my head; you should see it.

But I find myself here today. What would a life worth writing look like? What about a life worth reading? Thinking cumulatively is when I start stressing, feeling anxious about not having done something truly great…like Chia Pet great. I mean, come on, the grass grows like the animal’s hair.

How do I live a more writable life? My conclusion is this, and feel free to push or prod: Living today and its multitude of moments given over to the leading of the very Spirit of God.

Give this. Go there. Say that…no, not that, that other thing. Get up. Put the book down. Pray. Pray more. Pray for her right now. Ask this question. Don’t speak at all. Seriously, shut your mouth.

The Holy Spirit says more each day than I care to hear, which is probably why I don’t listen two-thirds of the time. Should I do all that the Spirit says, my days would look dramatically different. I mean like Chia Pet different. Only God knows how differently my story would’ve read by now.

What if for one day you and I did everything we sensed the Spirit telling us to do, or not do? String together a week’s worth of those kinds of days. Maybe our blogs and facebook pages and tweets and vineagramchats would be more interesting, at least worth reading.

Morality After Murder? Moral Relativity at its Best

Statement from Eric Ferraro, Vice President of Communications, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue (body parts) to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

A well-funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and services has promoted a heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving (maybe don’t kill the life?) scientific research. Similar false accusations have been put forth by opponents of abortion services for decades. These groups have been widely discredited and their claims fall apart on closer examination, just as they do in this case.”

The above is a statement from Planned Parenthood’s VP of Communications. If you’re ever caught doing something awful, you would want such a person, or department, to communicate on your behalf as well.

        Abortion is murder. The only people who don’t think so weren’t aborted.

There are 322 Charleston shootings every day in the United States. They take place in little rooms at clinics, many funded by your taxes and mine. The same government that cries out over 9 African Americans being shot to death throws money at the 2,899 abortions that take place each day. The former should happen. The latter is damnable.

My primary point in writing this is to say that we shouldn’t be surprised if an abortion doctor sells body parts or organs of the babies he/she murders. The bigger surprise would be why anyone on the side of abortion would care.

This seems to be a most striking display of incoherency and inconsistency. The outcry to the President or Congress should come back with a muted, “Yeah, that’s too bad,” if their worldview remains consistent. After all, is there morality after murder?

I understand those standing for the rights of the unborn to still be grieved on account of such atrocities, even after the baby has been blotted out of earthly existence.

But why would any person, and I include government officials, who is pro-choice, be any more grieved over making a little extra cash than over extinguishing a life? Perhaps they wouldn’t be upset if the seller paid taxes on the exchange?

This is yet another example of the logical, practical, and philosophical inconsistency of being pro-choice.

BUT, RIGHTS! one might say.

Whose? I ask.

MINE! one might retort.

What about the one without a voice?

As Ravi Zacharias has replied, “We cannot talk about human rights without the right to be human.”

 

How Civilized is Civilization?

 

One of the great laments I have is that I never read great works of literature. Yeats, Hemingway, Twain, Dostoyevsky, Woolf, Plath and Thoreau are a mere sampling of the great cloud of literary witnesses whose company I’ve failed to keep. Granted, I had some exposure to such works, but I didn’t care at the time; it was college, after all. There was more to do.

While in Brevard, North Carolina one day, Lindsey and I happened upon a used book sale at the Transylvania County Library. There were no copies of Twilight, Fifty Shade of Grey, or The Notebook to be seen, presumably because people checked out those books . What I found, though, was a treasure trove of great works by Faulkner, Twain, Hemingway, Thoreau, and Dostoyevsky. So I bought them.

I read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway first because it fit in my back pocket. That fish put up one heck of a fight. The old man’s patience was both inspiring and depressing. When patience bleeds into passivity, it is not longer inspiring.

I picked up another book, a double volume, from my nightstand and started reading. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau were both on my ‘list’. So I started Walden.

I take it Thoreau didn’t watch television and wouldn’t have had it been available. His reach into Latin, Greek mythology, and religion is envious–attainable with time, sure, but who has such time with Netflix?

In the first paragraph of the book Thoreau tells of coming back from his stay in the woods, counting himself “a sojourner in civilized life again.” That line struck me for its Christian undertones. Though acquainted with the Bible, I doubt Thoreau was making that allusion.

Inside of cabin

In light of the chaos of the cosmos and the increasing expressions of darkness around the world, one should ask what and/or who is civilized. It seems to me that Walden’s woods might be the kind of “civilized” we long for.

Here we [read, Christians] are, sojourners in a civilization that sees us as foreign and irrelevant, at best. But it is our irrelevance to the modern culture at large that makes us distinctly Christian. I am not saying pipe organs equate you with holiness. Fundamentally, the message of the cross and Christ is largely impractical and ineffective by count of the civilized.

Thus the task we take on in Christ is to sojourn faithfully, not as escapists or as those who embrace all for the sake of relevance, whatever that is. We engage as those in the world but not of the world.

As the quote below says, would that none of us upon coming to die discover that we had not lived

Snow Days and Snot

snowdayThis past week was no doubt cause for much excitement on the part of students in snow-laden sectors of the country. In our neck of the woods (the top right corner of Tennessee) kids were out the entire week.

That means, among other things, I was home all week. I had never considered going to work a vacation until being at home, where I was held inside against my will by snow and snot.

Our kids were sick. All three. Fevers. Snot. The big D–not Dallas or divorce. Hacking coughs. Combine all the ingredients with the volatility of being 3.5, 2, and 10 months and, well, I don’t even know what to call it. Use your own word.

But what if I had worked all week?

My wife would have been at home all day…alone…with these beautiful monsters. Even when they’re not sick it’s hard enough.

As soon as I forget how vital Lindsey is to the fabric of the universe and the formation of our children, there’s a sick day or snow or something else day to remind me. Moms are nothing short of super heroes. You all are the sticky stuff that holds other stuff together. And you are usually covered in snot from the kids…which may very well be the sticky stuff I’m thinking about.

I love you, Lindsey. And other mommies, I don’t love you in that way…but I hope the good Lord has people around you who do and who let you know it.

Israel Didn’t Choose Slavery, But I Did

For 400 years the people of Israel were subject to hard labor and unsympathetic taskmasters. They were slaves.

They didn’t choose it. I guess you could argue they did because of their disobedience. Not to mention, God warned them. But nonetheless…they weren’t checking the ‘Slave’ box on the application.

And yet, I did. And you probably have. We check the box and sign on the dotted line.

“The rich rules over the poor, the debtor (ME) is slave to the lender (faceless company who owns me).Proverbs 22:7

I have to believe Solomon chose his words carefully here. He knew the s-word would make Israelites pause. “Did he just say what I think he had said?”

Yep. Slave. And you choose it when you sign the dotted line or swipe the card or have the cushy couch delivered to your house and pay it off five years later.

Now that couch isn’t as comfy…but the payments are just as high.

Or the car. The car you couldn’t live without. For us (read: MEEEE), it was a new Honda Odyssey. It’s mostly new still. But as time goes by, the seats will crack, the paint will get chipped, the body dented, but the payments will remain the same. I’m a slave. I chose it.

Point being? Don’t get into debt. “But it’s good debt!” Yeah, like there are people checking the mailbox and upon seeing that bill exclaim, “OH JOY! THE GOOD DEBT BILL HAS ARRIVED!!! I’ve been waiting for this ALL month!!!!!!”

It’s debt. The only argument you can make is that your house will increase in value over time. Yes, let’s hope so. But even there, it’s possible to overextend oneself and then your house goes on sale for a miniscule amount during the next recession because you’re over-under on it by a bajillion pesos.

Be wise. Be slow to swipe and slow to sign. Save. Make little payments to your bank account, and then make one cash payment to the guy who wants to be your taskmaster. When you hand the wad of cash to him, feel free to say, “You will not enslave me good sir.”

Lord help us live small and give big.

Why Yellow Lights are Good for Your Soul

 

We all do it.

We calculate speed, distance, level of risk, and then make the decision…

With grit of teeth and a flex of the ankle we hit the accelerator and speed on through that yellow light.

Whew, made it. Look at those poor souls stuck at the red light. Of course they will catch you while you’re stuck at the next one, but it doesn’t matter because you made it through this one.

Yellow lights are quite helpful in the scheme of things, though. Could you imagine the lights changing from green to red with no transition? It would be chaos. A yellow light is one’s friend, preventing unnecessary pain, damage, and expense. They create a certain rhythm for driving, an in between if you will. Go. Slow. Stop. Go. Slow. Stop.

Now signaling the turn from illustration to application: I often feel as if I am either GO! or STOP! Fully accelerating or slamming on the brakes.

But God has been so kind as to build in some yellow lights, opportunities to slow down before stopping completely and having to accelerate once again. Sometimes I can even time it to where I don’t have to stop all the way but can keep a little momentum moving forward if I spy the yellow light far enough in the distance–you know what I’m talking about, especially if you drive a stick.

Summertime offers a litany of slow downs.

Vacation, for instance, is a red light for some. But I see it as a yellow light, a chance to take my foot off the pedal and pay attention to what God may be doing around me or what He might be asking of me. Sometimes what I notice brings me to full stop, and all I’m left with is Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God. Yes, Lord.

The scenery of summer also has a yellow light quality to it. Lying by the ocean, boating on the river, floating on the lake, fishing in all the above. Water is a often a visual representation of chaos in the Bible. But summer offers a chance to tame the beast and enjoy its pleasures. It’s a chance to slow down and just be.

My yellow light of choice, however, is this: BeStillMountains are a slow down for my soul.

I live around mountains, but I don’t have a view of the mountains like this one (picture from my parent’s back porch this morning). I’m reminded of my smallness and God’s grandeur. I remember the length of my days as compared to the eternality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Quite simply, I slow down.

The next time the light turns yellow and you start measuring and gauging whether you can make it, I encourage you to take your foot off the gas and appreciate the slow downs life affords.

 

I Don’t Want the Volvo

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers…” (from Donald Miller, A Thousand Miles in a Million Years).

volvo

I read Donald Miller’s book three or four years ago, and I still think about this particular quote. Miller’s point is to say, simply, most of us live boring stories. People wouldn’t look at our lives and say, “Wow! There must be something empowering you that’s out of this world.” People certainly wouldn’t pay dollar bills to see our lives played out on the big screen. And for good reason. Stories without risk, adversity, and faith are boring stories–especially for someone claiming to have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead dwelling within (i.e., the Holy Ghost).

Most recently this quote resurfaced as I sat with my wife listening to a pastor from India. The mission he leads in India educates pastors, trains woman in sewing, cares for orphans, plants churches, and evangelizes the Hindu population. This year alone they’ve already witnessed 686 baptisms of men and women confessing faith in Jesus Christ for the first time. 14,000 Christians are worshipping locally as a result of God’s work through that ministry. Over 20,000 people have entered fellowship with Christ over the course of this man’s 23-year ministry.

I don’t have a Volvo. But I do have an Accord. Mostly because Honda’s are more reliable and cost less to maintain. So, technically, my Accord is even less of a risky choice than a Volvo.

As I listened to pastor Abraham (not to be confused with father Abraham of the beloved classic children’s song), I thought about how boring my life can be. Don’t misunderstand. I love my wife and our kids–and doing that well is a huge responsibility. I love pastoring Bunker Hill Christian Church…another huge responsibility. But I’ve never walked into a house full of Hindus not knowing whether I will walk out again.

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t compare your life with someone else, especially someone in a different country where a particular religion holds sway over all others. It’s a fair thing to say. I probably couldn’t find a house full of Hindus to enter into. But there are plenty of people steeped in southern religiosity, legalism, and Phariseeism. Preaching in this area of the country (E. TN) is tough. Many people have been taught it’s irreverent to say “Amen” during a sermon or to make any kind of motion while singing (raising hands, singing loudly, clapping). We’ve made the most exciting story in the history of the world boring.

It’s not boring for pastor Abraham and his colleagues. It wasn’t boring for the apostles Paul or Peter. It wasn’t boring for Stephen, the first martyr on record. I’m left with questions:

1. Am I personally living a story that requires the power of the Holy Spirit? Or am I living for the Volvo…with heated seats and a coffee maker? (p.s., when will a car be made that has a coffee maker)

2. Is my church–and your church–living for a vision in which the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to succeed?

If either answer is no, we may want to think about selling the car.