Just a few short months ago my wife, Andrea, received a message asking if we would allow our daughter, Elliana to join the Pageant at Frontline Christian Academy, where she studies along with her two brothers. For Andrea and me the answer was simple and swift, no. Neither of us are “pageant parents” and we don’t even understand all the categories, proper attire, and other “pageanty things.” It was not long after when a fellow parent from FCA, Jhona, contacted us. She said “Will you let Elliana join the pageant? I will take care of everything.” The answer came just as swift, yes.
I was just hoping Elliana’s hopes and dreams would not be crushed, and that she would have fun regardless of who wins. I mean, she had never participated in anything like that, and as far as I knew she had no idea how to walk, talk, stand, smile for the judges...all of the necessary things it takes to win. As the time neared, we would occasionally bring her to meet Jhona, who coached her on all the necessary things it takes to be in a pageant. I never stayed to watch, just dropped her off. The only thing I knew would be fine was her talent. She has been in ballet for almost a year, and I knew she would be confident doing that.
Long story short, Elliana won all but 2 of the awards, including Best in Sports Wear, Best in Formal Attire, Best in Talent, and 2017 FCA Princess! Andrea and I were shocked, as we watched our daughter walk perfectly, stand with grace, smile like a champ, and do all the things we never knew she could even do! All of this plus, to make it even better, she was celebrating her 8th birthday. So what is the point of this post?
Sometimes other people can see things inside of us, and our children, that we do not see. We become so blinded by routine, the status quo, our own insecurities, and occasionally laziness, that we don’t always see the potential that lies within. Andrea and I were just praying that Elliana would win one thing, so that she would not be disappointed, and instead she took almost the whole cake! Jhona saw something in our own daughter that we had yet to discover. When I asked Jhona about it afterwards her answer was simple. She said “It was so easy to mentor her, because she really wanted to do it.” Wow. I didn’t even know she wanted to do it!!
When we surround ourselves in a community of trusted friends, believers, people who share similar interests and values, and live life alongside each other, good things happen. Others will see the best in us, push us to improve and get better, and keep us on our toes. Sometimes this walks the line of judgement and quarrel, which is why I put “trusted friends.” It is my experience that I easily receive constructive criticism and advice from people I trust and live alongside in community. Ask yourself this question - Are there any people, or families, that I trust and who also have a genuine place to speak inside of my life? To see the best in me when all I can see is failure? In the final blog, part 3, we will discuss what holds us back from living life alongside others as I believe God intended.
What does it mean to be a part of a community? Google defines community as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” I like this definition the best, because it highlights the fact that community must have some kind of nucleus to hold it together. By this definition, community can be formed in many different places, and held together by a variety of things. I am going to share three different stories about Community, in three separate posts.
As you can see in the pictures, we are part of a small group that is comprised of married couples who have children. If you have children, then you know that sometimes the struggle is real. If you are married, then you know… I better stop there, Andrea might read this! Either way, I think part of life is about making integral choices, having quality character to see them through, and balancing commitment and compromise as necessary along the way. Many times, it is the commitment and compromise that we struggle with in life’s day to day circumstances that often seem to be fluid and ever changing.
Our small group is on its 3rd round of discipleship material. The first time we went through a parenting course, the second time a marriage course, and now we are going through a book called Believe. We often struggle with the same questions. When should I hold my ground? When should I give in? When should I not waver in my decisions, and when am I just being hard-headed…? When it comes to our family; that is marriage, children, and relatives, making these choices is a daily task which can often seem daunting. The desire to compromise in our values, ethics, and standards is all around us.
This is where it helps to be in community with others who can be trusted and with whom we share similar values. This does not mean that everyone of us thinks or believes the exact same things, because we do not, but rather we have come to an agreement that we will journey through life together, learning along the way. Often we will go to each other and ask for help, advice, prayer, or simply a listening ear. Perhaps one of the main impacts community can have is helping us to understand that we are not alone in life. We are not alone in our struggles and problems. We are not alone when we feel like complete losers, and that surely “no one else has messed up as bad as me.” Through community, we can realize that others also feel like the worst parents in the world, or like they never get things right. Community opens the door for conversation, understanding, growth, and personal improvement.
Being in this group has helped Andrea and I become better parents, friends, spouses, and Christ-followers. God designed us to live in fellowship with Him and with each other. As such, it is a relief to have a group of people we can trust with a part of our lives, and who we know will always be there if we need them. Community like this is not confined to a church or “small group,” perhaps you are office mates, hobbyists, parents of children who are teammates on a sports team, parents of children in the arts… community can come from where we least expect it. We must identify it, nurture it, and let it grow.
For sake of easily remembering, we will use an acronym DRAW: Distraction, Regret, Anxiety, and Worry. These four hangups can suck the life out of us every single day of our lives. If left unchecked, they will slowly drain every ounce of joy we have until we are shriveled up, grumpy old people, who no one else really wants to be around. It is difficult to joyfully live our lives to the max when every day our thoughts are consumed by the wrong things. Guilt is a powerful foe, and one that must be conquered so we can live to our full potential.
Distractions have to do with the present. There are so many different things that fight for our attention every minute of every day. Situations deemed urgent (whether or not they actually are) often dominate our time. We run from emergency to emergency putting out fires. We hurry about from activity to activity without taking time to be present in the moment. As a young boy, my father taught me a phrase that speaks of focus: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” This is not to say we should not help others in need, of course we should “love our neighbor as ourselves.” But part of loving ourselves is focusing on what is truly important, not allowing distractions to dictate every moment of our time. And sometimes WE are the poor planners and we fail to schedule rest and reconnection with our family into our own lives.
Regrets have to do with the ghosts from our past. Decisions and choices we made, paths we walked, and words that we said are all just examples of things that generally can never be undone. This stuff will sometimes haunt us and remind us of our apparent failures and shortcomings. However, I think we should remember that life will always have disappointments and moments where we come up short or even fail. Failure is not usually the end of a story. Most of the time we can learn from failure, adjust ourselves for the next time, and let go of regrets knowing that we are daily improving. My advice? If you need to make amends for or apologize for something from the past, do it! Do it, be done with it, and move on toward tomorrow.
Anxiety has to do with things in the present and future that are almost always out of our control. We feel anxious when we want to control a certain outcome, but cannot. Anxiety can rob us of our joy, our sleep, and our meaningful relationships. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). The best way to overcome anxiety is to live a life of peace, and peace that comes from a meaningful relationship with Jesus is always the best. When we are able to surrender our control over the things that bog us down with anxiety, we come to understand that the control was an illusion anyway. This scripture gives us a road map to that surrender.
Worry has to do with the future and what WE want it to be. We deeply desire the very best for people we love, such as our spouse, children, and others close to us. Sometimes this love and deep desire for the best can cause our thoughts to be dominated by worst-case scenarios. Worry, at its root, is a lack of trust. For a Christ-follower specifically, a lack of trust in God and His goodness. Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life… Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:25 & 36). God cares more for us AND our loved ones than we can comprehend. And we should do our best to leave situations in His capable hands.
This ends our 3 part blog series on The Art of Taking a Breath. I pray the Lord will remind us all to slow down, smell the roses, and learn to enjoy each day as the gift of God it truly is.
My wife and I are nearing the end of an incredible journey with our middle child, Elliana Brooke. We discussed adoption before we got married on May 8, 2004, but we could have never anticipated the journey our hearts would lead us on. We moved to the Philippines in 2006 as full-time missionaries, and inquired about adoption officially in the beginning of 2008. We found out that you must be in the Country for 3 years prior to attempting a domestic adoption, so we went about our missions work and set adoption off to the side for that time.
That is until a miscarriage in 2009 helped remind us that we had reached our 3-year requirement for adoption. We asked a social worker friend, and were in the hospital just an hour later looking at this tiny beautiful baby girl. Two days after that we brought her home, which began a 2,883-day journey that no one could have anticipated. In the midst of our adoption process, laws that affected us were changed, court hearings were delayed for up to 4 months at a time, and official papers were misplaced (which sent us into a scramble). It was a journey that Andrea and I had no idea we signed up for, but it was well worth it because 2,883 days later we have the court decision, new birth certificate, and Philippine passport in hand!
God works in ways we cannot fathom or imagine. If we allow Him, and simply obey His voice, He will bring benefit to our lives through the midst any circumstance we face. Difficult situations tend to bring our character and integrity to the surface, where we can usually see things in ourselves that we would like to change. It is in difficult and challenging times that I am ever reminded of what should be my complete dependence on God. When situations are out of my hands, as in the final judge’s decision as to whether or not we would win our legal finalization of Elliana’s adoption, I am reminded that I should pray for my desire, but end with “Father, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
Taking a breath is about reminding ourselves that life on this earth is temporary. As much as possible, we should enjoy the ride and live every day as if it might be our last. Take time to laugh even in the midst of sadness, smell the roses even though we might get pricked by a thorn. We often cannot see the silver lining when we are personally going through a difficult situation, or when something is out of our control. However, the way we live our lives is something that we can usually control. So, live a little more, love a little harder, and joyfully give until you are spent. What usually robs us of this joy? What distracts us and causes us to end the day with a heavy heart and a “I wish I just would have” mindset? I will talk about this in part 3 of 3… stay tuned!
Recently, I was preparing for a Small Group meeting when I was suddenly hit with a powerful truth. In that moment, I realized I have had it all wrong for so many years. We see this truth displayed all over the place. We see it in pictures and we hang it on our walls. It’s printed on bracelets and t-shirts. We hear it in sermons and messages, and of course, it is often written on graduation, greeting, and sympathy cards. Do you know what truth I am talking about? Jeremiah 29:11 - “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
This verse often brings comfort to those in mourning. It brings hope to those who are facing discouraging circumstances. It symbolizes a light at the end of the tunnel, especially when we feel like darkness is surrounding and suffocating us. In fact, this verse has impacted me personally at several different stages of my life. Understanding the context in which it was written helps reinforce the three answers of God - yes, no, and wait.
When Jeremiah wrote this letter to God’s people, the second batch (of three) had been exiled to live in Babylon. Can you imagine the state of mind and heart that God’s people must have been in? They must have been feeling defeated, hopeless, forgotten, and perhaps even felt that God had turned His back on them. Times were tough for all of Israel. To put verse 11 in context, let’s also read verse 10 - “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” Seventy years!?
In other words, even though their situation was dire, and they were being held at the mercy and will of Nebuchadnezzar, God still reminded them of His love and eventual plan for them. We often forget what Peter tried to explain to us, that “...A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). We often want God to give us an immediate YES or NO. I will often say “Just let me know Lord!! I need to know now so I can adjust MY plans!” Anytime I talk with God about what “I need” and “my timing,” there is a problem.
Does God love us? Yes. Does God have a plan for our lives? Yes. Is God an eternal being who sees and understands the big picture more than we ever can this side of Heaven? Also yes. I believe our job as followers of Christ is to ask for what we desire, because He is after all a good, good Father. However, at the end of our prayer we should consistently remember how Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, and Thy will be done.” Life is, after all, a waiting game. Waiting until the day we see Him face to face, until we are able to worship at His literal throne of grace.
All of this to say, let’s take time to stop and smell the roses. Take time to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation which surrounds us every day. Take time to watch God’s handy artwork in the sky when you see a beautiful sunset. Let’s take time to re-learn the art of taking a breath, and patiently waiting for God’s responses and answers to our many prayers and desires. Our hope for this life is in Jesus Christ alone.
Last time we discussed how our kids look to their parents for guidance, observing their every move, and seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Children have a knack for noticing our actions before our words, which relates to our character and integrity. What about everyone else in their life? What about teachers, coaches and trainers, youth pastors, school bus drivers, ballet and dance instructors, and any other adult who holds a position of power or authority over children and youth? The answer is seemingly simple, yes. Yes to all.
Any adult who holds a position of authority or power over children and teenagers should never take that responsibility lightly. When Jesus was talking about the coming of the Lord, He challenged us to always be ready, and to follow what we know to be true and right. He said, “...When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” (Luke 12:48). What could we possibly be entrusted with that carries more purpose and value than the hearts, minds, and lives of the next generation?
I can think of no greater responsibility than to help the next generation of individuals build their foundation for success. The truth is that young people are all around us and seeking someone to mentor, challenge, and lead them. They are looking for solid guidance and trusted information in a day when their lives have become fragmented by social media, internet, and broken families. This is a calling. God is calling us as adults and professionals to mature and show care and interest for the next generation. What they need is genuine attention, caring love and concern, and someone who will help them without expectations of getting anything in return.
In our world today it can seem counter-culture to truly focus on helping others without any expectation of return. However, we are constantly challenged by God to do our part. We are to be obedient, and leave the results in His hands. A person of maturity has greater understanding of the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. Found in Luke chapter 8, this farmer spreads seed everywhere on the ground. Some fall onto a pathway, some hard ground, some thorny ground, and some in fertile soil. Yet even knowing that the results of his labor will be varied and out of his control, the faithful farmer sows freely for maximum impact.
We often want to be successful, especially when helping other people. But we can never determine the results of our labor - of our obedience - that is for God and God alone. We are simply called to follow God, to grow and mature personally, and to spread His Word everywhere we possibly can. Let us do so with the understanding that everything is at stake. Our own children, and all the children we have influence over, look to us for certainty and resolve in a time of uncertainty and crisis. May every word I speak, and every action I take, be a testimony of God’s goodness, his love, and the awesome plans he has for the next generation. Amen.
This past Sunday my family fellowshipped with San Gregorio “Oreobox” Church, which is one of our eight Frontline Worship Center campuses in the Philippines. During the praise and worship time, I was touched when our youngest son, Isaac (6), had a moment of inspiration. You see, Andrea was worshipping with her hands raised and her eyes closed… and Isaac was watching her. Next thing I know, Isaac stood up and held Andrea’s arm with one hand, while raising the other hand as high up as he could up towards the sky. He started singing the song passionately with his eyes closed. It was a moment more precious than a Kodak one, for if I had taken a photo it would have cheapened it.
This was just another simple reminder for me that little eyes are always watching, and that our children often tend to copy what we do, say, and even think. This is sadly not always a good thing. As my children get older, I am learning that there are many not-so-great things about myself reflected in them every day. You cannot hide who you are from your children, as they see the good, the bad, and the ugly. This time, however, Isaac saw his mom worshipping the Lord, and that was a good thing that made a big positive impression on his little heart.
It seems that children and youth have a knack for hearing all those words we never speak. That is, our actions. Our actions speak loudly of our values and perspective, while reflecting our character and integrity. I can talk to my children about the importance of having compassion until I am blue in the face, but if I don’t live a life of compassion they will know I don’t really value it. This will bring to question my character and integrity in their eyes. In part 2, I’ll talk about how this applies to others in positions of power and authority over our children.
I have been in the Philippines with my family since August 25, 2006. My wife, Andrea, and I have 3 kids (Josiah, Elliana, and Isaac), who were all born here in the Philippines.