Jesus is Like a Chicken

March 3, 2008

“Dad”, Hyrum, my 7 year old said, “Jesus is like a chicken.”

I was a little shocked by the comment.  We’re not in the habit around here of making jokes about the Savior.  Nor do we normally compare Him to things like stinky farm animals. Just something, well, not sacred about it.

My first thought that he was making a joke and a reprimand instantly jumped into my mind. But then I looked closer at his eyes.  He was serious.

Still, I wanted to make sure I had heard him right… “What was that?”

“Dad, Jesus is like a chicken.”

“Oh, really. How’s that?”

“Well, not like a rooster dad, more like a mother chicken.”

Now he really had me. Where was this all going?  What crazy idea was running through this 7-year-old mind?

Putting my arm around him, I said, “Ok, what do you mean, son?”

Without flinching, and looking rather serious and grave, and keeping his eyes locked with mine, he said…

“Well, today I read a story about a mother chicken. When there is danger, she gathers all of her little chickens in under her wings to protect them. I even read about a chicken that was in a forest fire and the mother got burned and died, but the baby chickens were all saved under her wings. A fireman saw that burned mother and thought she was dead, but then he saw something move and realized that those cute little chickens were all still alive so he helped them get out.”

It was said all in one breath, but not rushed, and with total sincerity… just like a 7-year-old would.

I was shocked – stunned really. It was a little boy speaking to me, but the words were deep and profound.

“Ok”, I said slowly, “how is that like Jesus?”

“Dad, when there is sin or danger nearby, Jesus wants to reach out to us and help protect us. He even loved us so much that he protected us by dying, just like that mother chicken. He really loves us, doesn’t He dad?”

Now, I was fighting tears from springing into my eyes. My chest was feeling tight and my stomach was dancing around with emotion.

Reaching out, I took this sweet boy into my arms.  “Yes, son, he really, really does love us.  And I love you.”  “I love you, too.”  And he was off, as if nothing had happened.  And I was left to reflect on the power of the Savior and His example for me as a parent.

Wherever my son picked up that striking analogy, I don’t know. But it left me wondering, “Does Hyrum and the rest of my children know that I love them that much, too?”

As a parent – especially as a dad – do they feel my love? Does it resonate with their soul? Do they wake up in the morning, firm and solid in the undying love I have for them? And when they go to bed, does their head rest softly on their pillows, comforted by the peace of my love surrounding them?

And if they can – or more especially, if they can’t – how can I more strongly transmit my deep love to them?

The answer came to me in the middle of the Arizona high desert while attending the burial services of my wife’s 97-year-old grandmother… a secret I’ll share with you next time…


Teach Doctrine, Not Just Behavior

December 14, 2007

Three years without a glitch and now this.Why was he doing it?

It had been over two months now that our son had started wetting the bed. The whole thing was disheartening and puzzling to Margie and I. We talked about it, prayed about it, read about it, thought about it… but nothing seemed to bring us a solution.

To stop the wettings, I had rewarded, praised, threatened, and spanked. Nothing seemed to work.

The effect of this effort was simply more wet sheets, a rather fearful small boy, and two very, very frustrated parents.

I had been told many things by many people about bed wetting… “His bladder must be too small – he’ll just have to grow out of it. That’s what my doctor said.” “He is suppressing some emotional conflict and needs to see a therapist.” “There is some new medicine on the market that helps with this sort of thing. Why don’t you take him to the doctor and be done with it?” “Just ignore it – he’ll get over it eventually.”

Fundamentally, I felt uncomfortable about all of these answers.

You see, I have learned through my personal experience, many success books, and most importantly, through scripture study, that God made us in His image. And that as His children, we are endowed with the power and privilege to be masters over our bodies. At the core of this power, each of us has been given agency – the ability to freely choose our thoughts and actions (though we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions).

Because of that, I had to believe that, somewhere, for some reason, my little 5 year old was choosing to wet his bed. That being the case, he could choose to not wet his bed. It’s a painful, but liberating truth.

And frankly, the “why” behind it all was not that important to me. I also tend to think that we spend way too much time in society today digging into the why, instead of focusing on solving the problem. Was his bladder too small? Maybe, but why did that stop him from waking himself up and walking the 10 feet to the toilet? Did he have “emotional issues”? Maybe. But the power to control our emotions is part of our Godly heritage.

I also know that there is nothing impossible to man when he resolves to do something and is willing to turn to God for help.

So, at the core of my seeking for an answer, I had to figure out a way for him to be motivated to make that choice. Once the desire was there, the “how to” of keeping his bed dry could easily appear.

But how could I increase his desire?

As I prayed about it, I had a series of ideas come into my mind. Here is what I did:

1. Taught the Principle of Agency

My son and I sat down and had a talk – the same talk, repeated over and over again. “Son, did you know that God gave you total and complete power over your body? Let’s see you do something cool… can you raise your hand? Great job! Ok, now try closing your eyes. Awesome! How about jumping up and down on your right foot? See, that’s no problem for you. Ok, last one… can you blink your eyes, swallow, and pat your tummy at the same time? No problem! You’re amazing! And do you know what? God has given you that same control over your private parts. And guess what else? When you are asleep, part of you mind stays awake and can tell you to wake up when you need to go potty. Isn’t that amazing???!!!”

During our second talk along these lines, I could see the lights illuminate in his eyes. He was discovering that he was in control of his mind and body. I could see this truth awaken a sense of power and strength in his mind.

How different is this conversation than what most children are told… you are powerless, you are a victim, you are not in control, the world around you dictates your actions, etc… Isn’t that the principle behind the pop a pill and see a shrink message that so many children get today?

Now before anyone reading this jumps on the defense, let’s be clear about my perspective. I totally believe that God has inspired the creation and expansion of modern medicine. Likewise, I firmly believe that a good counselor can do endless good. These things have their place and space. But I also believe that they should only be utilized after correct principles are taught and children empowered to act and not consider themselves hapless victims of a cruel world.

2. Habitual Skill Training

Even after he felt empowered, I knew my son needed to possess the habitual skill of using the toilet instead of his mattress. So, we turned to my good old, faithful friend… practice.

Every time the bed was found wet, he got to practice at least 10 times in a row doing it the right way. We did this most often in the middle of the night, just after he wet. Yes, it cost me a lot of sleep, but his self confidence – and learning the lessons of agency – were well worth it to me.

I’d sit in the hallway and have him climb into bed, pull the blankets up around his neck, and close his eyes. “Ok, what if you are sound asleep and suddenly you have to go potty… what do you do?” With that, he would throw the covers back and run into the bathroom, lift up the seat and carry out every particular of the practice – even down to flushing.

3. Salting the Oats

The old saying goes that you can’t make a horse drink water… but you can salt the oats.

A little added motivation was needed to get the job done. In this case, it was agreed between him and me that if the bed got wet, then his practice rounds would increase in longevity, eventually getting to the point that he would have to stay home from school all day and do nothing but practice.

4. Finally, Prayer

Each morning, and each night, he and I would kneel down by his bed and petition the Lord to give him the strength to keep that bed dry.

You see, he had to learn that our agency and will power is not enough in some cases… sometimes it takes our all, plus the prayer of faith, with nothing wavering and nothing being held back, to accomplish a goal. Only in this way can we rely on Heaven’s help… and he needed to learn that lesson.

With these five elements in place, we saw a miracle take place. After a few days of this, my son’s heart started changing. The desire to keep his bed dry and prove that he was in control, that he did have agency, and that God would help him, grew in his little heart (not to mention he really didn’t want to spend ALL day practicing!).

As so often happens when you empower another person to rise to their Heavenly Heritage, they take off and soar far beyond your expectations. On his own, my 5-year old son concluded that it would be better to practice BEFORE the bed was wet. And, certainly, if one brief mention of keeping his bed dry was a good thing in his prayers, a stronger, more repetitious petition would help all the more.

So he began. At nights, he got all snuggled up, warm and happy… and then with a gust of energy he would throw off the covers and make a dash for the toilet. This he would do over and over again, bragging time and time again, “I did 16 practices tonight dad – I’m never going to wet my bed!” “I did 20 practices, dad! Isn’t that good, dad?!”

Just before bed, as he knelt down to pray, he would plead with the Lord in loud tones, “Please help me not wet my bed. Please help me keep my bed dry. Please help me go potty in the toilet. Please help me not wet my bed. Please help me keep my bed dry. Please help me go potty in the toilet. Please help me not wet my bed. Please help me keep my bed dry. Please help me go potty in the toilet.” Sometimes repeating it 4 or 5 times.

Rising up he’d say, “God will help me, won’t he, dad?” “Yes, son, of that you can always be sure.”

In the end, we focused on the principles and doctrines behind solving the problem, not necessarily on the problem or the behavior to fix it. It was his own wisdom and insight that took those powerful tools and applied them in a way that worked for him.

Today, we not only have a son that is bed wetting proof, we also have a son that understands things like agency, personal power, faith, goal setting, natural consequences for behavior, and a myriad of other priceless life skills.

Additionally, in the process, the Lord has opened my eyes to a way – a pattern really – that most childhood challenges and struggles can be addressed.

The pattern? Teach correct principles and doctrines and correct behavior is likely to follow.


The Pure and Honest In Heart

December 10, 2007

Her angelic face radiated with pure and undefiled joy.

Her eyes glowed bright, her forehead was lifted and pushed together, and her mouth was wide open and drawn gracefully across her face in a massive, unrestrained smile.

But it wasn’t just her face… her whole body was engaged in that smile.  Her perfect hands and arms waved joyfully in the air, her legs pumped back and forth, unable to contain the excitement, and her vocal cords joined the jubilation in squeezes and coos and tiny bursts of laughter.

The whole attitude was beyond contagious and I simply could not resist smiling back at her, talking to her, holding her just a little tighter, and loving her all the more.

As I sat in my office that day, holding my 3 month old little Sariah, I wondered at the unbounded love and trust this little soul had for me.  In that moment, she knew no better, but being thrust from God’s presence into my arms, she was almost forced to love and trust me.

In that moment, I couldn’t help but cast my mind’s eye forward a couple of years.  At two, would she love and trust me this much?  And what about at five, when she was awake to the world, would this confidence grow and strengthen, or diminish?  And how about during that awkward pre-teen stage of ten… what about then? Could I still win the glowing smile and enthusiasm of her heart?

And, of course, the ultimate test of parenthood… as a teenager, filled with a whole new awaking and awareness of her agency and independence, would she turn again and again to me, believing in me, trusting, me, respecting me as a peer, and calling me her own dear and wonderful papa?

Few things in my life have so captured my attention and engaged my whole soul as the journey to finding a way to answer all of those questions in the positive.  The love and trust of my eight children is a thing that I enjoy now and want to relish in, no matter what their age, circumstance, or position in life.

So how do I ensure that I can have the sought after prize?  I can’t guarantee it, I know that much.  But, having carefully watched hundreds (if not thousands) of families, I have observed that there are lots of things that I can do, and many more things that I should not do, to increase my odds of always basking in the love and trust of my children.

Perhaps that is why a recent article in Parenting Magazine so disturbed me.  The author , Julie Tilsner, titled her article, “Why It’s Okay to Lie to Your Child (Sometimes)
A guide to little white lies, social fibs, and more — and when the truth really matters.”

When I read that article, I considered the relationship I enjoy with my wife.  I seriously questioned: “Do I tell her so called white lies and social fibs so as to strengthen our relationship?”  In fact, I thought of all the human relationships that I have… friends, neighbors, church leaders, clients, extended family, etc… Is it convenient and acceptable to lie to them now and then?

Is truth a thing that only “really matters” some of the time?

No, I will have to respectfully disagree with Parenting and Ms. Tilsner on this point.  Especially when I look into the pure and honest face of my 3 month old and, indeed, all the faces of my innocent children.

Many years ago, before the Continental Congress had convened, John Adams took up a case defending the English Red Coats who had been the force behind the Boston Massacre.  During that trial he repeatedly stated, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

As a parent, I believe – and try to live by – this statement.  I have learned by sad experience that if my relationships are not based on truth, honesty and integrity, then my foundation is like the proverbial sand and my house has little chance of standing.

Ms. Tilsner’s handy social guide to lying may be convenient to some, but perhaps it is actually a mini-handbook on how to erode relationships and ensure that at some distant point in the future, your children will look at you with distrust and disrespect.

I wonder if there isn’t a clue in this to the troubled teens of our days, the lack of respect for authority that far too many children possess, and the sickening divorce rates we continue to see rampant in society.

Lies, white, black, socially acceptable, small or big, undermine the truth and attempt to defy the facts.  But, facts are stubborn things.  We cannot engage in any degree of negotiating with the truth, without chipping away at our own moral fiber and damaging our relationships.

And do we really believe that our children don’t know when we lie?  I think of the words of Mary MacCracken, “Nobody spots a phony quicker than a child.”

So, while a little nip and tuck of the truth may be convenient for us at times and sociably acceptable, it is not right, nor will it build and strengthen the relationships we have with our children.

As parents, each of us has a choice to make in every interaction with our children: Will we be socially acceptable… or respected of our children?  We can listen to the voices saying it is OK to lie a little and cheat a little, or we can turn our ear to the voice that still whispers and calls to us from Mount Sinai in words that have defied conventional wisdom for thousands of years, “Thou shall not bear false witness.”

Looking into the beaming face of my newborn daughter, I’m moved to try at little harder at always telling the truth so that at 20 years old, her look of trust and love will have grown and not faded away.


After the Technique Comes the Concerto

December 5, 2007

“I’m must concerned that he doesn’t like it.  If he doesn’t like it, he will never be any good and feel pushed his whole life. And that is not what piano lessons are all about.”

Joshua’s piano teacher was right.  He wasn’t enjoying it… and he was doing terrible at it.

The sad part was that he has so much talent.  He can pick out songs, has a great ear for tone and pitch, and has an excellent sense of rhythm (unlike his father).

But what he didn’t have was the passion and all the skill and talent in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans without passion.

So, why didn’t he… and how could he get that passion?

That was the question Margie and I asked ourselves over and over during the next few days.  When we talked with him about it, he simply said, “I don’t like those exercises she makes me do – they’re not even songs and it is so boring!”

So, how do we make the technical exercises fun and exciting?

Here is where we articulated an enormously valuable lesson of life that Margie and I had both learned, but not realized it.

The answer is: you don’t make it fun and exciting – you just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Isn’t so much of life like that?  As a mother, does Margie get all jazzed up and excited about changing a stinky diaper?  How about mopping that floor?  Or do I just fall all over myself to do some of my work projects that take away from family time?  No, none of those things are our “favorite, most exciting things” in the world to do… but they have to be done so that we can enjoy the great thrills of life.

The fact is, much of life is boring, mundane, drab, and flat.

It was not an easy conversation for either of us, but before the next piano lesson, I sat down with Joshua, “I know you don’t like those technical exercises, but you know what?  If you don’t do those today, you’ll never be able to play the songs you love tomorrow.  Without the drab and boring stuff, there can never, ever be exciting stuff.  Plus, if you only ever do the ‘fun’ stuff, you’ll never really enjoyit, never really be good at it, and eventually despise it – and I don’t think that is what you want.  It’s your choice, but I think you should hang in there, master the basic technical stuff and see what happens.”

He thought about it for a while and finally decided to drag and drudge his way through.

And he did.

It is now a few months later and the house rings with music.  There is a piano upstairs and one downstairs.  Stop by on any given moment and you just may find his fingers flying across the keys, filling the air with a catchy tune here, or a sweet melody there.

What a satisfying feeling to see that he has learned that life is not all bells, whistles, flash, and fun… sometimes it is just plain hard work, dull, and boring… but well worth it.


“We Could Fill the Whole House With Little Babies!”

October 6, 2007

It wish… with all my heart, I wish I would have been there.

Aren’t there times like that in our life? Magical family moments that you would give anything to go back and be a part of. Times when the flood gates of happiness and joy seem to burst open and run all over your heart.

And you know… usually, those times are just simple things. Not the so-called great and glorious events of life or even the major milestones. Nope. More often than not, they are just the simple quiet moments of life that spark something eternal in your heart and ignite a flame of pure happiness, joy, and peace.

This time, it was the sound of tiny 5 year old feet pitter-pattering softly on the hall carpet. Those little feet made their way across the living room floor and up on to the couch beside my dear and wonderful wife.

It was early – not even 6:00 am yet. The rest of the house was quiet and sleepy. Everyone that is except for Sariah, Margie and me (I was already up in my office reading scriptures). Sariah, being only 3 weeks old, already had Margie out of bed, crying for a morning snack. It was Isaac that came and snuggled on the couch next to these two wonderful girls.

He began quietly caressing Sariah’s head and playing with her miniature feet and hands. “Mom, look at these feet. They’re so cute! And Mom, I’m going to tell you this… look at her pretty little fingers. Aren’t they soooo cute Mom? And mom, I’m going to tell you this… I think we should have more babies. Yeah, lots more because they are so sweet and cute. Mom, you know what? We could fill this whole house with more and more babies! And you know what Mom? I love little Sariah… she is soooo cute.”

Margie later told me that he was definitely in earnest as he spoke. His face was serious, sincere and full of infinite love for his little sister.

Oh! How I wish I would have been there to see those shining eyes and to hear his happy voice, expressing a deep longing in his heart.

In a way, his 5-year-old logic was true to the mark. You see, he figured that if this one darling little girl brought so much joy and happiness into our home, then surely, a whole home full of the little angels would bring exponentially more happiness and joy. Of course, his timing is off, but his idea is right.

One day, though it may be long, long into the future, every parent will likely have a whole house full of little babies – at least of their children.

It made me think of my wife’s grandmother. She is now almost 97 years old. In her younger days, she gave birth to 12 children. In turn, through time, those children have multiplied, bringing grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great, great grandchildren. In all her posterity is well over 500 today, and more than that if you count in-law spouses.

And it just keeps growing. Imagine, in less than 100 years she has over 500 children filling her house and bringing her joy.

I have often though, “How much good has that woman brought into the world?” She established traditions and attitudes and perspectives that have immediately influenced hundreds of people and touched the lives of thousands and thousands. And, given another 100 years, how much more power and influence will this one woman have had? It is almost incomprehensible to consider.

Now, regardless if you are a mother of 12 or of 1, your power for good is the same. Over time, your family will grow and multiply, expanding over time.

The traditions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and perspectives that you hold today will multiply right along with your family. It will grow and spread and expand and touch thousands and thousands of lives – for good or bad.

So, what are you doing today with your life? With your parenting?

One thing is sure and certain… one day, you will have a house full of children – thousands of them. What kind of future are you giving them by how you are living today?