In the movie Home Alone, parentless Kevin McAllister’s situation is what kids’ dreams are made of. After he is accidently left behind by his family as they are leaving on their Paris vacation, he experiences every kid’s wildest fantasy: he eats candy for breakfast, watches the movie he wasn’t allowed to see, sleeps in late, and goes wherever he wants whenever he wants. Kevin is completely free and doesn’t need anyone else, or so he thinks. The Wet Bandits ruin his dream, making Kevin realize he needs salvation, which then comes from the most unlikely of sources. Old Man Marley is not supposed be the hero of the story. He is the outcast, the scary one, the neighbor whom nobody thinks is worth anything, until he is needed the most.
For teenagers, Kevin’s story reflects the gospel in more ways than one. First, Kevin truly believes that he would be better off if he didn’t have a family to tell him what to do all of the time. He thinks that he doesn’t need rules because he knows what is best for himself. This attitude started with Adam and Eve in Eden; they thought didn’t really need the boundaries God put in place, but that they knew what they needed better than God did. Humanity has behaved this way ever since.
Secondly, Kevin’s general do-it-yourself attitude can be equated to spiritual blindness. In an effort to protect his house from the bumbling Wet Bandits, Kevin goes it alone, believing that all of his own know-how and preparations will be enough to beat the criminals. He could easily call the police, but his own pride and arrogance cause him to believe that he doesn’t need anyone else to save him. His plan works for a little while, but he is blind to the fact that he doesn’t have what it takes to overcome them on his own.
Pride and arrogance cause spiritual blindness. The general human condition is to think we can be good enough on our own, that we can figure out our “battle plan,” and be good enough so that God accepts us the way we are. We think don’t need God because we can do life on our own. Our teenagers struggle with this every day. They believe that they can be good enough, go to church enough, be kind enough, read their Bibles enough, and just generally be a good enough people so that they don’t really need Jesus.
When Kevin’s luck runs out and his best laid plans fail, he realizes how much he needs someone outside of himself to save him. This is when the plot twists and the unexpected happens. Kevin’s savior isn’t who he might expect it to be.
Old Man Marley is more Christ-like than he appears. He is misunderstood, misrepresented, and looked down upon. Jesus, too, was rejected by his own people, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, and someone who others looked down upon (Isaiah 53). Marley isn’t the savior that Kevin is expecting or wanting. But in the end, he is the savior who comes through for Kevin when he needs help most.
We all like to think that we can save ourselves. We think that we are in control of our own lives and don’t need Jesus because we can handle everything on our own. Kevin thinks that he is big and strong enough to fend off the robbers, but he is never going to be able do it alone. Just like Kevin, we need to realize how truly incapable we are and humbly accept the gracious help that the Lord offers to us.
Praise the Lord that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins on the cross, becoming the “propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2) so that we can be adopted into God’s family and have life everlasting. We can’t create a plan that is good enough to cause God to adopt us. We must simply believe in Jesus Christ and what he did for us. That’s it. It goes against every controlling bone in our body, every part of us that doesn’t want anyone telling us what to do. We must realize, just as Kevin does, that we need someone to save us because we can’t do it on our own. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the perfect Savior who loves us, is gracious towards us, and lavishes mercy on those who don’t deserve it.
At the end of the movie, Kevin realizes how good it is to be a part of his family. He realizes how much he missed his family, and that the rules and directions his parents provide for his life actually result in his flourishing. When we are adopted into God’s family, we realize that this is where we always belonged. How sweet it is to be called a son and daughter of the Most High God. We need the loving limits that Jesus provides for our lives, which result in us living life the way God intended for us to live. We can’t do this on our own, we need Christ to give us the ability. All we need to do is ask for help! The hope that Kevin finds when he reunites with his family is simply a reminder of the hope that our teenagers so desperately need to be shown through Christ.
Published on Thursday, December 8, 2022 @ 11:32 AM EDT
What if you knew this Christmas would be your last Christmas? I know, I know, it’s not a fun thing to think about, but just bear with me for a minute.
Just what if?
The reason I ask is because we knew. It was Christmas Eve, two years ago, when my late wife (Rachel) and I sat together in a hospital bed, talking with the doctor about where we stood, and coming to the realization that that Christmas would be our last Christmas together.
And I’ll never forget the moment that we knew. As we were in the middle of discussing the next steps with our doctor, he just paused and said, “This can wait. This can all wait. This isn’t the most important thing right now. Let’s get you home. That’s most important. Let’s get you home to your kids for Christmas morning.”
Nothing else needed to be said. At that point, we knew what he knew. And though we had already beaten cancer once, it came back. And it came back bad. Cancer can do that. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t follow any specific rules. It does its own thing, on its own time, and doesn’t really care who it affects along the way.
As we head into our second Christmas without Rachel, me, our kids, our tribe—we’ve all been affected in some pretty major ways. There is no doubt that it’s different. It’ll always be different. Some of our traditions have changed. Some of the decorations have changed. Heck, most of the things have changed. Because if we are being honest, behind all the presents, the decorations, and all of the food, the holidays are meant to be spent with those we love the most. So when one of those who we love most is taken away, it’s just different.
The holidays have this ability to amplify the relationships we have, or in some cases, we don’t have. For those of us who have lost loved ones, or even for those who just feel unloved, every jingle, every commercial, every mistletoe, every Christmas tree, every billboard, and every Mariah Carey song can be a reminder of what and who we have or don’t have.
Yet each year, many of us forget what (and who) matters most, and instead, we put the weight of the world on our shoulders worrying about all the stuff that doesn’t matter. We have unrealistic expectations for ourselves and everyone around us, and we try way too hard to do way too much.
So, I’ll ask you again. What if you knew?
What if this Christmas was your last Christmas? Think about it for a minute. Your last Christmas Eve. Your last Christmas morning. Your last Christmas tree. The last time you’d get to take your kids to visit Santa. If you knew that everything would change over the next year, what would Christmas look like for you this year?
As I sat down to write this, I began to do what I often do. I began to think about Rachel. And how she handled her last Christmas and also how she’d encourage you today if she could. I think we can all learn a thing or two from her. From the way she lived. From the way she loved. And from the way her story continues to impact us all today.
If she were here, I’m pretty certain she would encourage us all to:
Be more intentional.
Slow down. Step out of the craziness of life and school and work and just be. Be there. Be in the moment. Focus less on perfection and more on presence. Rachel would encourage us as parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, or any adult for that matter, to remember that the number-one gift that kids really want during the season is you. They want your ears to listen to their tales of adventure. They want your eyes to watch them play their made-up games. They want your mouth to encourage them to go for it. All they want for Christmas is you.
Be more generous.
This doesn’t mean buying more stuff. I realize we all love stuff—the newest gadget, nicer car, or bigger house. But as I sat with Rachel that last Christmas, she longed for nothing more than time. More time with her kids. More time with her parents. More time with me. More time with her people. So this season, she’d encourage us to be more generous—not by giving more gifts, but by giving more of our time.
Be more grateful.
It may be the best Christmas present there is—gratitude. It’s a gift you can give and receive at the same time. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about how grateful I am for Rachel—thankful for her choosing me and loving me so well. For making me a daddy, times three. For the way she cared for me and all those who were lucky enough to get to know her. I am grateful today and forever because of who she was.
I think she’d ask us to pause and think about the people we love most. Those you’ll be spending time with this holiday season. Now, imagine life without them. What would you miss about them? What would life be like without them around? Think about their laugh, their touch, the memories you shared, and the stories they’d tell. Think about how grateful you are that they are still here. And with that, she’d smile, and then encourage us to go tell them.
Eat more food.
And drink more wine. She’d tell us to eat the good stuff and to enjoy it all. Forget the diet because life is too short for that tomfoolery. And if you knew Rachel, you’d understand that there’s a really good chance that she’d even quote Scripture to prove her point.
“So go eat your food and enjoy it; drink your wine and be happy, because that is what God wants you to do.” —Ecclesiastes 9:7 (NCV)
So let’s do our best to remember these things this season. And understand that every day is a gift—it’s not a guarantee. No matter how you celebrate the holidays or what you believe the meaning of the season is, celebrate the miracle of being here—of having a chance to love and to be loved.
And then do me a favor, if not for me, do it for Rachel: Take Christmas with you—the intentionality, the generosity, the gratefulness, and the food too. Take it all with you, a little bit at a time, and spread it out all year long.
Published on Thursday, December 1, 2022 @ 6:02 PM EDT
One day you’re holding a new baby—toes in your hand and a little noggin’ tucked in the crook of your elbow. The next thing you know that baby is running past you, full of opinions, ideas and questions. Lots of questions. Scary questions.
Sometimes those questions seem to come out of nowhere. But when we’re really on top of our game, we head them off at the pass. Even though we’re scared. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Take a Deep Breath. You Got This.
Let’s practice a little exposure therapy, shall we? Take a deep breath (yes, again) and think to yourself, “It’s a good thing for me to talk to my kids about sex, mental health issues and violence.” Now repeat the line in a whisper. Then say it out loud. When you’re feeling really brave, share your newfound confidence with your spouse or a close friend.
Because here’s the deal: it is a good and wonderful thing for your kids to hear about complex topics directly from you. You can present the facts in a calm, relaxed manner, keep the door open for questions and point your kids back to the truth.
The ultimate truth, of course, is that God loves your children very much. And when you’re talking with them about the tough stuff of life, they need to know that God loves them and that you love them too.
3 Conversations That Scare Every Parent (And How to Have Them Anyway)
Let’s take a look at the complex topics mentioned above: sex, mental health issues and violence. We’ll talk about the high points you need to cover, when you might want to start the conversation and how to go about it.
All Things Sex
Sex might just the be the trickiest subject of the all. After all, sex in and of itself is a beautiful thing. And all the parents said, “Amen,” But there’s also a lot of risk involved in sex.
Hit the high points: You want to make sure your kids understand the logistics of sex, consent, what a healthy dating relationship looks like and how to respond when they’re inevitably exposed to pornography.
When to get the ball rolling: You can begin to build a foundation for this topic early on by calling body parts by their scientific names and teaching kids to set and respect body boundaries. As you kids enter preschool and early elementary school, answer their questions about bodies and where babies come from in an age-appropriate way.
How to make the most of your conversations: Foundation in place, plan to have sex talks on the regular. Kids will probably hear about sex and may even be exposed to pornography by late elementary school. You’ll want to make sure they understand how things work and have a script for saying “No thanks” before then. You’ll also benefit from modeling and discussing what a healthy relationship looks like by the time your child enters middle school.
Mental Health Issues
Experts agree that our kids are currently experiencing a mental health crisis. Fueled by the realities of the past few years, more and more kids are experiencing anxiety and depression, engaging in self-harm or even attempting suicide.
Hit the high points: Kids need to know that it’s okay to feel down—even desperately so. They need to know and believe that they are not alone and that there is help available to see them to the other side.
When to get the ball rolling: You might think it’s best to avoid talking about mental health issues until they arise, but you can start right now to model what it looks like to take care of your own mental health, both proactively and reactively. You can also help young kids begin to name their feelings, “I can tell you’re not happy, but what is it that you are feeling? Sad? Mad? Scared? Frustrated? Hurt?”
How to make the most of your conversations: If you think your son or daughter might really be struggling, say something. It’s best to be direct, lead with love and seek to find understanding. If you’re able, please also reach out to a medical professional for help. Your kid may resist this at first, but a trained counselor can help to equip your child with useful tools and strategies as they move toward health and wholeness.
Bonus resource: We’re passionate about supporting parents through their kid’s mental health. We have an entire online course dedicated to walking alongside you as you walk alongside your child.
Violence, Violence Everywhere
Reading the news these days can be so distressing. Between shootings, wars and the divisive nature of our country, it can overwhelm even the most unshakeable of adults. What, then, must it be doing to our kids?
Hit the high points: It’s helpful for kids to understand that while, yes, there are people in our world who make terrible, harmful decisions, most people are good. Most people want the best for everyone, even if they have different ways of going about it.
When to get the ball rolling: You might tread lightly on heavy topics like wars and shootings for young children. Consider how likely it is that someone else will tell them about a recent happening before doing it yourself. If it seems likely, open the discussion directly while sparing your child any graphic or unnecessarily scary details.
How to make the most of your conversation: After answering questions in an age appropriate way, revisit the idea that most people are good and help your child find examples of people in your neighborhood, church or community who live this out. Then teach your child to fight fear by coming up with actionable steps she can take now or in a moment of crises. She might write a letter to a victim’s family or learn to find an adult with children if she needs help.
Our kids are growing faster by the day, and that’s a wonderful thing. Let’s equip them for adulthood by talking about what really matters—even if it scares us.
Published on Thursday, November 17, 2022 @ 12:51 PM EDT
Comparison is like a moving airport sidewalk you wander onto… it whisks you 50 yards away to a bad place before you’ve even taken a step. And it always seems to be right there—just one tiny thought or scroll away—ready to dump you into a state of discontentment. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And if that’s true, comparison equally steals contentment, too.
Contentment, simply speaking, is choosing to be happy with what you’ve got. It’s learning to live in a state of gratitude even for the small things. Because more often than not, it’s the small things that fill our days with meaning.
Spending just a few seconds each day thinking about the things you’re grateful for can radically shift your mindset. If you’re having trouble finding something to be grateful for, we have a list for you (and a free, printable family challenge at the end of this list!) All 50 things may not apply to your current circumstances, but there’s probably more to be grateful for than you might think.
1. For the roof over your head and a warm, dry place to sleep at night
2. The clothes on your back and shoes on your feet
3. The water in your home to take showers and bathe your kids
4. All of the food in the refrigerator and pantry
5. Electricity! And for living in the time where it exists
6. Cell phones and how they connect us to our loved ones all over the world
7. Having internet access in your home
8. How fun it is to decorate your home for the seasons
9. Candles! All the cozy candles
10. A safe, sanitary environment to prepare meals for your family
11. Your kid(s)! Is there a bigger, better thing to be thankful for?
12. Restored relationships in your family
13. The adorably-perfect way toddler mispronounce words
14. Long, healing hugs from your teenager
15. Heart-to-hearts with your middle schooler
16. All the joy that new babies bring
17. Every night that you were able to rock your child to sleep
18. Watching your child’s personality develop
19. The moments when you notice your kid make a brave and kind choice
20. Your favorite kid books, and the time you have to read together
Your Best Self
21. Your God-given talents (yes, you have lots!)
22. The fact that you are the best parent for your child
23. The ability to move your body
24. Good hair days
25. Coffee (or tea!)
26. Your favorite foods
27. Your body’s 100% success rate of getting you through every single day
28. The way you feel when your favorite song comes on the radio
29. Your ability to love your child(ren) more than you ever thought possible
30. The unique ways you make others feel good about themselves
31. Your childhood friends
32. The friends you’ve made as an adult
33. The laughing-so-hard-you-cry moments with others
34. Facebook groups that make you feel less alone
35. Friendly neighbors
36. The teachers who care for your child(ren) well
37. Trusted babysitters!
39. Nurses and Doctors who were there on the hardest days
40. The way communities can come together after a tragedy
Your Simple Joys
41. The way the leaves change in the fall
42. How pretty Christmas lights are
43. The first warm day of spring
44. Watching your favorite team win a game
45. Cozy, rainy days
46. How your house smells when you’re cooking something good
47. Watching your kid(s) laugh
48. The feeling of freshly-washed sheets on your bed
49. A clean kitchen
50. Fresh flowers in a vase
Published on Thursday, November 10, 2022 @ 4:16 PM EDT
There are many words available in the dictionary to describe our kids. There’s . . .
But grateful? Grateful isn’t a word that first comes to mind when we think about kids in general. And that’s not to say we don’t try our hardest to instill a sense of gratitude in our kids, because we totally do—teaching our kids to say “thank you” is one of the first concepts we want our kids to grasp. If nothing else, our kids will be polite, thoughtful, and thankful.
Except when they’re not, which is more often than we’d care to admit. It often feels like nothing is getting through to our kids, that all of our hard work is in vain. Will our kids always swipe food from our plates without a second thought? Will they always snatch money from our hands for extracurriculars without a grunt of appreciation? Will our kids ever be grateful? Well, there is hope and hard work in the following phrase. Are you ready for it?
Gratitude isn’t an inherent emotion. Gratitude is learned. There’s no better person to teach a kid about how to be grateful for what they have than the most influential person in their life, and that’s you. So, here are some ways to model gratitude to your kids:
1. Be vocal about the things you are grateful for.
Kids are always listening even when you don’t think they are. You’ve probably experienced this firsthand when your kid repeated something they overheard when you really wish they hadn’t. So, give them some good things to listen to. Pause throughout the day and let your kids hear you share what you’re thankful for at that moment. It can go something like, “Do you want to know what I’m thankful for right now? I’m thankful we’re all sitting around this table together at dinnertime.” Or “I am so grateful for this warm cup of coffee this morning.” Or “I am so glad I get a chance to rest my body. I worked hard today.” Nothing is too small to celebrate—in fact, the smaller the gratitude, the more lasting impression.
2. Make sure your family knows you’re grateful for what they do.
There’s a loosely-translated Andy Stanley quote that says something to the effect of, “Unexpressed gratitude feels like ingratitude.” We don’t have to tell you how true of a statement that is because you’re likely living some form of it every day. The saying, “More is caught than taught” applies so well here: If your kids hear you saying “thank you” often, they’ll likely start seeing moments of gratitude in their own lives and start expressing it too.
3. Create a habit of serving others together.
It’s easy to only look inward all the time, especially with so much going on at home. But nothing shifts perspective quite like helping others. Your kids need to have their worldview expanded because truly seeing others and what they experience increases empathy. So, make sure to nurture the spirit of service in your kids and add opportunities to serve into your family’s daily, weekly, or monthly rhythm. You can make homeless kits with the essentials in them to pass out, return shopping carts inside the store, or pick up trash at your local park. Anything goes.
4. Use key moments in your family’s rhythm for gratitude check-ins.
There are natural rhythms in your day when you can talk with your kids—morning time, drive time, mealtime, and bedtime. Make a daily habit of using one—or more!—of those times when everyone says at least one thing they’re grateful for. Encourage your kids that there is nothing too big or too small to share—it all counts. Set a reminder in your phone so you don’t forget this small yet impactful practice of gratitude.
Published on Thursday, November 3, 2022 @ 4:32 PM EDT