I like older people. Much of the time, they are content with where they are and they have an ease about them that makes one drop their defenses quickly. They don’t smirk either…they give you big, wide smiles, savoring them while they share a moment of laughter. They also have incredible B.S. detectors that can be set off at a moment’s notice. Don’t mess with them – they will call your bluff. Older people often have a simple wisdom that can be applied to most any complex situation in life. But most are not begging to give advice to others – they are simply content to live with what life has already taught them and we are presently learning.
I love watching parents turn into grandparents and the slow but steady shift in perspective this creates. Much of the responsibility (and headache) of parenting is gone and all that remains is a simple joy in providing unconditional love to a young child. And, with it, an unending supply of sentimentality and nostalgia. For grandparents, it’s amazing how quickly their nostalgia “filter’ can find and resting place over the most difficult of family situations. Sometimes I wonder if they see life through the warm and glowing lens of Hallmark Channel camera.
We have not had the easiest year. Life threw the kitchen sink at us. And in the past year I have not savored the love and liveliness of a beautiful wife and four children. I haven’t been a “bad” father or husband. I simply realize that there have been times when I was distracted by less important things. And that has caused me to live life somewhere other than in the immediate present.
I don’t normally do the New Year’s resolution thing. But I’m making an important one this year. My resolution this coming year is to live life with the sentimentality and nostalgia of someone double my age. It’s to imagine the fondness with which I will remember these very moments much later in life and transport that same fondness into the present. To revisit memories that, though they seemed bleak at the time, turned out to be powerful moments of grace in my life. And I’m not waiting until the New Year to make the change. There are many chances for “old” Sam to influence “young” Sam’s worldview in the next two weeks. Hopefully, my New Year’s “exercise” will turn into a lifelong habit. Feel free to try it with me.
Childhood is fun. Of course, when we are children, we think that there is some greater significance in being an adult. Then we become adults…and we become nostalgic for our childhood days, friends, and activities. The truth is that growing up sucks big time. No one tells you why being an adult is so difficult. But at the risk of sounding simplistic I see one big difference between adulthood and childhood: a well-honed ability to conceal our deeper emotions and hide our true selves. Getting to this state is a grueling process. We slam our fingers in the emotional “doors” of life at home, school, work and church until we figure out that it’s not safe to be emotionally available to others…or at least not on a deep level. Girls become superficial and guys become “commitmentphobic.” And then we make a big life decision. Not the big ones you are thinking of though this one impacts all the others. We decide to share only 10% of who we are with others. Why only 10%? Because those are the only parts of us we can control in public. And the other 90% turns into anxiety, concealed rage, depression, and addiction.
Depressing, huh? Yep.
God never designed us to live this way. He thinks you’re okay. But part of adulthood is conceding to the fact that others don’t think you are. They criticize, judge, and manipulate to prove this to you. Sadly, Jesus bled out on a cross to show you the exact opposite. Could that be true? It’s a risk to believe something so radical. I came across this quote in Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy. He describes mature spirituality in a way that seems foreign to what we encounter daily:
Interestingly, ‘growing up’ is largely a matter of learning to hide our spirit behind our face, eyes, and language so that we can evade and manage to achieve what we want and avoid what we fear. By contrast, the child’s face is a constant epiphany because it doesn’t yet know how to do this. It cannot manage its face. This is also true of adults in moments of great feeling–which is one reason why feeling is both greatly treasured and greatly feared. Those who have attained considerable spiritual stature are frequently noted for their ‘childlikeness.’ What this really means is that they do not use their face and body to hide their spiritual reality. In their body they are genuinely present to those around them. That is a great spiritual attainment or gift.”
There’s no need to be afraid of who we truly are. If you haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution yet, here’s one to consider. Refuse to grow up. Refuse to hide the best of who you are from others. Be childlike…so much so that your emotional and spiritual states shine through your body and facial expressions. Say “no thanks” to intimidation, social pressure, and shame…and just be you.
Hi everyone. Things change quickly at the Nunnally household.
Beth and I have had a love/hate relationship with adoption. We began to feel like adopting a child was the right thing for our family about three years ago. At that time we began to pursue international adoption from the nation of Rwanda (in Africa). That long and tedious process came to screeching halt in August of 2011. We were within weeks of having our documents on Rwandan soil when the Rwandan government closed the country to adoptive parents. We were devastated and struggled through two months of personal heartache. Determined to continue, we applied with the minority program at Open Door Adoption Agency in our home town. And we waited.
Due to a comedy of errors at the church I serve this past year, Beth and I found ourselves in a place once again where our chance to adopt was essentially over. It seemed like the circumstance would never line up for us to bring another child into our family. And we quickly lost hope. So much so that we packed up our adoption files and put them in a box in the attic and gave away our baby stuff. We made the announcement that we were leaving TFUMC a month ago to plant a church. Something had to give…and adoption was getting the pink slip. We informed Open Door of our changing life status and told them we would contact them soon to officially pull our names from the list of potential families. Then we forgot about it. For good. We concentrated on making contacts in our future community, finishing up at TFUMC, and transitioning the three children we already had. We began to adjust to our new reality.
Last Saturday, we received a call in the middle of dinner from the adoption agency that a birth mother has chosen our family to place her newborn son with. That wasn’t supposed to happen, you know. After all we had it on our “to do” list to swing by the agency and pull our application permanently. We just didn’t make it to the agency that week. We made arrangements for our children, dropped everything and drove several hours to the hospital. After two days of tense conversations and waiting, we brought a four day old baby boy home.
For those who know us, we talk a lot about God’s love. But rarely have I seen the power
of God’s love demonstrated to me on such a personal level. I’ve been confident to pray for God’s miraculous intervention in the lives of others. But never have I seen God display that same love for us in our deepest moment of helplessness. He did. And that gives me the strength and hope to move forward into all the other areas he’s leading me towards.Honestly, we’re still a little in shock about all of this. After all, we had completely given up on the idea of having another child through adoption. And then, with days to spare, it feels like God wrestled the entire world into submission to give us our hearts’ desire. The funny thing is, we have seen God do some really important things for us. But they were wrapped in the fact that they would benefit others also. We’ve prayed for people and watched God do some neat stuff. We’ve seen God change circumstances for us because it ultimately benefitted other people. But this one was different – it was for no one but us. And it’s become a healing agent for us in a time of struggle. I have been more at peace in the last few days than I have been in the last year.
My last post reminded me of a couple of biblical examples that spoke volumes to me about the subject of Christian parenting.
The story of Eli and his sons is the first one (1 Samuel 2:20-36). Eli’s sons were priests and spent the majority of their time abusing their privileges in self-serving ways. No one would consider them “nice, well-mannered young men.” They were first class jerks. This passage often makes it into parenting seminars as an example of a gluttonous, lazy, and personally undisciplined father and the havoc that his lack of restraint causes. The inference is clear: Eli’s sons were horrible because Eli was a bad father. I can’t tell you the number of parents I’ve seen who, upon hearing about the inappropriate behavior of their children, are washed over with guilt because of the actions of their offspring. And it doesn’t matter the age – the child could be forty years old and still the parents feel they are responsible in some way. The church often reinforces those stereotypes, as if the personal humiliation isn’t enough on its own.
But here’s another biblical example we don’t talk about that much: the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 8). Do you know about his kids? They were just as bad as Eli’s – possibly worse! In fact, their injustice and willingness to take bribes is what casued the Israelites to want Saul for a king. That may explain why Samuel was so against it. Even as Saul is being appointed over Israel (12:1-4), Samuel is still carrying on about his sons still being available to judge Israel – as if they are a better choice than Saul. By all Christian standards, Samuel is what a parent should be: a mighty man of God, modeling service and sacrifice to God on a daily basis. Someone to be admired and imitated. Yet, his sons reject his example, despite his efforts to influence them for the better. By chapter 12, it’s obvious that Samuel thinks a king is a bad idea – but more importantly, he’s so blind to his own children’s behavior that he actually thinks they are still qualified to govern Israel.
Okay, Sam, so what’s your point? Well, it’s essentially what I said in the earlier post. Good parenting is not about cause and effect or “if you do A, you’ll get B.” It’s not a formula. Parents have to believe that our parenting makes a difference. Otherwise, it’s an overwhelming task. But for Eli and for Samuel, regardless of personal devotion to God, the spiritual formation of any child goes beyond what even the best parents can do. Ultimately, each person has to recognize the pursuit of God in their life and be willing to respond. I can do my best to create an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit can draw my children into relationship. But in the end, each child’s response is their solely their own. And that’s not a bad thing. God pursues relationship with our children regardless of our behavior, simply because that’s what he wants. And his desire for their salvation far outweighs any hopes I may have for my children. So I model my Christianity, not because it’s important for them to see it. I model it because my Christianity is important to me. And as God pursues them, one day their Christianity will be important to them as well.
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I’ve been thinking about what makes someone a good parent – or better yet, what we should consider good parenting skills. I’m finding there aren’t any hard, fast rules that determine whether your child turns out to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner or an ax murderer. And most kids end up somewhere in between anyway. A couple of books have brought this question to my attention.
The first was that fun little book Freakonomics. One of the chapters attempts to determine the bearing of different parenting styles on children. What the authors find is that socio-economic status has significant bearing in a specialized way. Children in middle to upper income families do better because of the opportunities that money gives them. Intelligence has little to do with it. For example, a child who reads children’s books in his/her home is likely to do well in life. But it’s not because they read better than another child. It’s because a child whose parents have enough money to buy children’s books are also going to have enough money to buy piano lessons, art lessons, etiquette classes, a private school education, etc. Baby Einstein videos don’t do much for your kid, but a parent willing to spend the money on those videos will most likely spend that same type of money on other things to make sure their children succeed. Interesting point. But it says nothing of spiritual or character formation.
The other two books were religious. The first was George Barna’s Revolutionary Parenting. This book was pretty adamant that a particular type of parent turns out spiritual “champions” on a regular basis. The type of parent? Evangelical and conservative. That wasn’t that surprising either – Barna is an evangelical. The point was that these parents modeled a Christian lifestyle for their children and gave them multiple chances for response. But I began to think about many of the Christians I know today…and whole lot of them were not brought up in a Christian home at all. And the more serious ones had a horrible upbringing. Maybe that’s because they actually understand the gravity of salvation since they were so far from God to begin with. Or maybe they understood the ravaging effect of sin in a more personal way. There is some truth to the idea that great sinners make great Christians. So Barna’s approach leaves out a whole lot of people.
The final book was Tony Dungy’s Quiet Strength. In the second chapter or so, Dungy talks about the exceptional example his parents provided for him. They were strong, church-attending Christians and both had higher level educational training. Both were teachers. By our society’s standards, that’s the one-two punch. It’s easy to talk about how great his parents must have been and that surely this was the reason for Dungy’s successful coaching career. But the last paragraph of the chapter throws a wrench in that scenario. Dungy stated that it wasn’t until years later as an adult that he made a commitment to Christ. Huh? Wait a minute. If anybody should have been a great Christian from the start it should have been Dungy. He had Christianity and education. But it didn’t impact him as much as we assume (or hope) it would.
So what am I trying to say? As parents we have to believe that our parenting makes a difference. Otherwise, it’s an overwhelming task. By secular standards, socio-economic status determines our success in life. But for Christians, it has to be more than that. Yet in both of the Christian books I described, the spiritual formation of any child goes beyond what even the best parents can do. In fact, some Christian parents who do everything right, end up driving their children away from God. As much as parents would like to believe that model parenting matters (and it can certainly help things), ultimately each person on this planet has to recognize the pursuit of God in their life and be willing to respond. I’ve come to understand that there is no way I can really introduce my children to God. Now, I can surely model the importance of personal relationship before them. I can also place them in environments where the Holy Spirit can draw them to him. But in the end, that’s between my children and God. And there’s nothing I can do about that.
But there’s hope. I also believe that God will go to the same extremes that he has done with me and my wife in order to develop a relationship with my children. God doesn’t pursue a relationship with my children because I want him to. He pursues them because he wants to. And his desire for their salvation far outweighs any hopes I may have for my children. So I don’t model Christianity because it’s important for them to see it. I model it because my Christianity is important to me. And as God pursues them, one day their Christianity will be important to them as well. Not as a cultural condition, but as a genuine love response to the overwhelming goodness of their Creator.
Filed under Bible, books, children, Christianity, dad, family, father, God, mom, mother, parenting, religion, spirituality, Uncategorized
Annagale came home with this in her school work the other day. Okay, the spelling isn’t perfect but when I read it, I became extremely angry. Let me decipher it for you: “Sally the horse was pretty good. She did what you told her.” More than a grammar exercise, Annagale was conveying something I am doing my best to counteract: conformity. This is no reflection on her teacher (who is exceptional) and her school (which is highly acclaimed). Schools are not to blame for this – they merely reflect what we feel is appropriate for human behavior. It has to do with the paradigms we instill in our children at a young age. My children (and your children) are not “good” because they do what we think they should. They are “good” simply because they are. God made them that way.
I find myself on occasion correcting my children not because they need correction but because I’m embarrassed that others will judge me for their behavior. Rather, I should be fostering their creativity, individuality, and a personal sense of “God-esteem.” I want them to learn everything they can including obedience. But that doesn’t include conformity. If you’ve never seen this incredible TED talk by Ken Robinson,” I think you would enjoy it.
Here’s another take on the issue by Christian leadership guru Tim Elmore.
Filed under children, Christianity, culture, father, God, life, mother, preaching, religion, spirituality, Uncategorized
For those who have been following our adoption story (here, here and here), I wanted to update you again since many have not heard how we have “adjusted” in recent months. Initially we planned to adopt a son from Rwanda and set out on a year and half journey. With a month or two to go, Rwanda closed its doors to adoptive parents who did not have their documents on Rwandan soil. The reason for this was so Rwanda could become Hague “compliant.” You’ll be happy to know that those families who’s dossiers made it to Rwanda before the deadline are being processed quickly and that many families will see their new family members soon. We rejoice with them over this.
Beth and I spent some time soul-searching and decided to move forward with adoption through other means. We fully intend to internationally adopt a son from Rwanda. But in the meantime, we are domestically adopting a son through a local adoption agency’s minority program. We are very close to being “paper ready” to adopt (once again) but in the USA this time. This really isn’t that big of an adjustment for us – we had always hoped to adopt two boys.
Now, this becomes a new journey for us. Transracial adoption is more easily accepted when the adoption is international. When you adopt from Africa, your child looks African. But when you purposefully set out to adopt a minority child domestically, people have been known to not be as accommodating. You are specifically choosing someone outside your race and for many this crosses lines. And surprisingly, those most angered are not the ones you may expect. Here’s a link that delves into that controversy some more. So, we realize we are embarking upon a journey that has taken a different turn.
We’re are quite comfortable with that. All children need a home – those in the United States and abroad. They all need loving families. Not perfect families. Loving ones. Maybe God will speak to you the same way he has to us. Maybe the question to ask is not “Why adopt?” Maybe the question is “Why not?”
I made a committment to myself about two years ago to say those things out loud that I think others should hear. No, not those things. The good things. The positive traits about others. And even then, not just what someone “does” that is admirable. I like to tell people they are great regardless of what they may or may not have done. Why? Because they are. People need to know that they matter. That they are taken seriously. That they are worth the fuss. When we stop and tell people what we like about them, we tell them that they are important enough to take time out of our own your little “world” and be open with our compliments. And stopping means as much if not more than what you actually say. It’s not flattery or manipulation – it’s real. After all, each person we encounter is made in the image of God.
Take the phrase “I love you” for example. Most parents tell their children they love them at a few particular times a day. Dropping off to school, ending a phone call, or bedtime routines come to mind. But these events all have something in common: they are departure points of relational interaction. In other words, we only say “I love you” when we’re leaving someone we care about.
Isn’t that kinda silly? Think about it – we only say we love others when we leave them. Maybe that’s fine for adults, but it’s possible that we send kids a mixed signal when we say that. I think kids walk away from that scenario unconsciously recognizing, “they love me but they are removing themselves from me.” Does that mean I shouldn’t tell my kids I love them as I drop them off at school? No, silly person. But if I never think to tell them I love them at other times, then “I love you” can become the same as “I’m leaving you.”
One of the greatest joys of life is catching your children by surprise with the words “I love you.” It’s great to watch that smile creep across their face as they realize you said it for no other reason than you meant it. The other day, I leaned over my four-year-old and told her I loved her. She looked at me with great irritation and said, “I already know that!!” Now that is a beautiful thing to hear. And that surprise moment is a great feeling for adults, too. There’s nothing wrong with giving that compliment in the moment you think of it. It’s genuine, honest, and encouraging.
Filed under children, Christianity, church, family, God, life, love, marriage, parenting, religion, spirituality
I plan to do a series of posts on Christians and competition soon. But I’ve been distracted lately with all manner of personal and professional issues – some of which I wrote about in my last post. But honestly those were just two main issues in the mix of what has turned out to be two dozen in the past 6 months. Beth and I sat down on the couch a few days ago and decided to go back to the basics of what makes our family “tick.” At the core of that is the idea of pursuing a life of peace. And though I’ve blogged on this idea before, I thought I’d share those ideas again - at least for my benefit if not for someone else.
The idea of pursuing a life of peace comes from the verse “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14, 1 Peter 3:11). Romans 12:18 relays a similar idea: “Do all that you can to live at peace with all men.” We call it aggressive peace. Beth and I try to make decisions around the idea that in every situation, there is a peaceful and overall beneficial decision that keeps balance among our family members. If at all possible, we choose that “peaceful” solution. That’s how we make vacation plans, buy new appliances, choose schools, choose television shows or movies, etc. You get the idea. If there is a choice that leads to unrest, strife, anger, impatience, and irritation, we usually opt for something else.
Now that may sound obvious to you. But there’s a subtle difference. We don’t wait for peaceful decisions to come to us. We make peace happen for our children and for each other. We’re aggressive about pursuing peace. We fight for it. We plan for it. We do whatever it takes to maintain it. A lot of people have financial goals or material goals – and we do as well. But all of that comes from our overall peace goal. What lies behind “peace” for us? Questions like, “Which choice promotes the most security for our children?” “Which choice creates ease of life and rest for our retirement?” “How can we peacefully discipline our children?” And most importantly, “Which choice honors God and draws us to him, not away from him?”
But not only do we not wait for these options for peace to come our way. We take it a step further: we “agressively pursue” them. Beth and I discuss questions like, “What makes for a peaceful marriage?” or “What brings peace to our children?” or “What does financial peace look like?” Then we take agressive measures to implement those details into our lives. For example, with finances, we list a second round of details. Financial peace means ultimately means no financial stress: little debt, no collections calls, solid retirement plans, college saving for children now rather than later, choosing economical and sensible cars and houses, and not living paycheck to paycheck if possible. Then we aggressively make those our goals.
I guess pursuing peace as a lifestyle can only be done by someone who believes they have the ability to make their life what they want. I believe all of us can do that. But it takes a lot of thought and premeditation…in other words, it takes work. And often times our decisions are not the most conventional choice. We’re not experts at this and sometimes lose our focus. And plans can certainly change. But the key is to at least have some plan in place and be willing to adjust it accordingly when life throws a curve ball. Personally, living a life of peace is a way to honor God with what he’s given us – a way to proactively reflect his image in us. Taking the initiative to make life good is not anti-Christian at all. It actually reflects the productive nature of God and his willingness to be involved in every aspect of our life. In the end, life truly is what you make of it. Our goal is to make a life of peace for each other and for our children.
Okay. The contexts of power and character go beyond Bible verses to the life of the believer (and non-believer). Let me give you two examples from my life.
Before I went into vocational ministry about a decade ago, I worked for the credit union of a Fortune 500 company. It was a promising career (and sometimes I wonder why I left it for ministry! ) . My boss would come by my office and chat a couple of times a week. He would ask, “What’s up?” or “How are you doing?” I assumed that he wanted outstanding loan balances or delinquency percentages. My heart would jump every time he did this: Is he checking up on me? What does he want? He’s looking for something. What did I do wrong? I would say very little so that my words wouldn’t be “used against me.”
That’s the context of power. I assumed that our conversation was more of a chess match. Someone would win and someone would lose. I didn’t know any other way to operate. For the record, I was an idiot. My boss never intended for those conversations to go that way. He simply wanted to get to know me better – he simply wanted a good relationship with me. That’s why he asked how my day was or how my wife was doing. Then he would ask if there was anything he could help me with or offer advice about what that I may be struggling with. He didn’t do this so he could write it all down in a secret file. He wanted to work with me to solve the problems and grow my experience as a manager in the financial world. I didn’t get it…and it must have been incredibly frustrating for him simply because he was working from the context of character.
Here’s another story. A few years later after I had shaken myself free from that paradigm, I walked into a church service of a friend to visit. The service had started – I merely wanted to sneak in the back and listen to my friend’s sermon. A lady was in the foyer texting on her phone I had never seen her before. She stopped and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be texting during the service. How about not telling anyone?” And then she laughed nervously. I said, “I’m sorry, you must have mistaken me for God’s policeman. I’m not the least bit worried about your texting.” I smiled and slipped in the back door. That lady assumed that I (a total stranger) worked from the context of power. She was caught. I would “expose’ her. I would win and she would lose. She may have assumed that God felt the same way…
The same is true with kids. Children become defiant. They get angry. They push boundaries. And when they do that they are imitating the power context of authoritarianism they see modeled for them in home, church, and at school. They feel the attitude of competition we bring home from a hostile work environment and listen to our words. And they began their own personal life of conquest. I know I’m in the minority here, but I have chosen to reject that approach. Occasionally I forget when I’m backed in a corner or seriously frustrated with my children’s behavior. But most of time, if my children become defiant I look for clues as to why my relationship with them is broken rather than force their obedience. Can I “make” them behave? Sure. But all that does is reinforce the importance of power in their hearts.
God has called us to live life from the context of character. That means occasionally you find yourself on the losing end of some arbitrary contest that someone set up that you may not even know you are competing in. That’s okay. They created that contest, not you. Expose the context of power. And declare that you don’t play that game. It’s not for faint of heart, mind you. But it’s the one modeled by Jesus. Of course, they killed him for it.
I suppose that’s the risk you take.
Filed under Bible, children, Christianity, church, culture, family, God, Jesus Christ, life, parenting, religion, spirituality, Uncategorized