The King of Kings and Lord of Lords

January 2, 2008

For two weeks I have totally and completely submerged myself in family gatherings, events, dinners, parties… and countless hours of quiet home time with my dear wife Margie and our children.

Projects have been shelved.  Work has been set aside. Urgent church matters have been deferred to another day.  The rush and rumble of daily life has been quieted and slowed down.

And I have just basked in the warm glow and the happy rays of my family’s light.

During that time we have given many hours of thought to a small Babe.  He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.  We know a little about that here at our house.

There is a barn full of animals in the back yard.  Each morning and each night Jared and Hyrum make their way to the back acre and milk, clean, feed, and water.  There is a manger there that the animals feed out of and a small pile of hay and straw that the hens use for bedding and laying their eggs.

It is not totally disgusting, but then again, it is not a nice Holiday Inn with Serta Plush-top mattresses either.  There is a strong, sickly-sweet smell of animal manure, alfalfa hay, mixed grains, molasses, and common, everyday dirt.

I paused a moment the other day when I happened to be out there and considered this tiny Babe.  None of my children have been born in such a lowly, dirty, and humble room.  They all took their first breath of life in posh, modern hospital rooms, fully equipped with complex machines and intricate medical equipment.

And what of that precious and sweet youthful girl named Mary that carried and delivered the tiny Babe?  The mind cannot imagine her humility or anguish of soul at bringing this Babe into the world in a place like that.  Perhaps only God and she will ever know the emotions that stirred in her heart at walking to that stable heavy with child.

Staring at the straw, the manger, the feed, the animals, the dirt, and the manure, the words of Isaiah came rushing into my mind, as set to music by Handel, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords!  And He shall reign forever and ever!”

Even now my heart beats wildly at the thought.  My mind reels with the splendor and the awe of it.  My eyes weep unrestrained at the emotion.

You see it was for me – for me personally, and individually that the great God of Heaven and Earth, the Almighty Ruler and Creator of the Universe descended from an eternal throne to subject Himself to a dirty, smelly, lowly stable.

For my sins, my weaknesses, my stupidity, and my arrogance He humiliated and abashed Himself.

For the hope of my joy, my peace, my happiness, and my safe return Home he came to this earth as a helpless Babe, trusting his glorious Being into the hands of parents just like you and me.

But, while all of this (and so much more) was done for me personally and individually, it was not done for me exclusively.  He came for you, too.  He stooped below all things for you, too – for all of His children, everywhere and in every time.  He came for His children.

Yes, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords came for us.  His birth was a call for each of us to come to Him, to embrace Him, to serve Him, and perhaps, most importantly, to follow Him and be like Him.

Can you hear that wee Babe calling to you from that humble stable?

Does the sound of His tiny, pure voice reach out to you and pierce your heart as it does mine?

Does the longing to go into Him, hold Him, and feel of His endless love, consume your heart and soul the way it does mine?

And, my friend, looking on Him – the Father of us all – does a burning erupt in your heart to become a real parent like He is?

Oh, how my whole soul longs to be a real parent like He is!  I wish every flaw, every inconsistency, every act of stupidity, would melt away and vanish from my being so that I could take my children in my arms and love them endlessly and perfectly – just as He loves me.

I want to be a parent like my King, my God, my Father.

So, the modern world rushes and swirls around each of us.  Today, I will be forced to enter those turbulent waters once again.  But through it all, the lowly, dirty stable, with its straw-filled manger stands unmovable, firm and consistent.

The Babe that lies there still calls to us.  He yearns to have us embrace all that He is and all that He teaches and all that He offers us.

Today, I may not be able to do it all, or become all that He wants me to become, but I will try.  I will try.

I will give my heart to this King of King and Lord of Lords who came to earth as the precious Babe Jesus Christ.


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.


Starts With An “F”… Ends With A “Q”

December 8, 2007

Without even taking his eyes off the board, Brigham, our 4 year old, calmly said, “It starts with an ‘F’”.

And what confidence!  Clearly he knows what he’s talking about.

Still, we stared in wonder and amazement. What?!

A brief moment of silence filled the room as 16 eyeballs stared blankly at the whiteboard in front of them.  “Starts with an ‘F’… humm what is that?”  The board had two sort-of round, swirly, heavily repeated circles where eyes of a face might be, one even bigger one where an open mouth could have been, and that little one could be a nose.

“A face!”

“Nope” And that is when the second set of swirly, whirly, wild circles started on the other side of the whiteboard.

Now the guesses started shooting forth from the children like bullets from a machine gun… “Fan!” “Frog!” “Feet!” “Fence!” “Furniture” “Family!” “Friends!”

But Brigham was totally unfazed… He calmly just kept saying, “Nope”.

After about the sixth circle, he turned around, face beaming with shear joy, body infused with the satisfaction of holding the whole family spellbound.  “AAAANNNDD it ends with a ‘Q’!”

That brought a thundering silence to the room that had been erupting with shouts of joy and peals of laughter.

“What?? Ends with a ‘Q’. Nothing ends with that letter!”

After the shock of the second clue wore off, the guesses continued with (if this is possible) even more enthusiasm and spasms of laughter.  It was a wild ruckus of the best sort – imagine 6 siblings racing around the whiteboard, jumping up and down, shouting at the top of their lungs.

One can be seen crossing their legs, trying not to wet their pants from laughing so hard.

Another can be seen jumping up and down, waving his arms madly.

Another is flopping on the ground, crying out, “An ‘F’ and a ‘Q’… an ‘F’ and a ‘Q’!”

And a fourth – Hyrum, our 6 yr old and newest reader – hysterically questioning, “Faaaquwa?  Faaquwa?  What’s a faaquwa?”

All the while the merry game of pictionary went on, with Brigham happily drawing circles and saying, “Nope” to every guess thrown his way.

Then in a sudden burst of energy and hilarity, Brigham turned to face the family.  Drawing in enough air to practically create a wind tunnel in the living room, he swelled up like a monstrous bloated toad and screamed out, “No!!!!! It’s a hammer!!”

All sense of composure was lost by adult and young ones alike.  A full ten minutes later, we could all still be seen laughing and holding our sides and saying, “The hammer that starts with an ‘F’ and ends with a ‘Q’!”

This night of pictionary on the whiteboard and the game of charades that preceded it, was not planned in advance, didn’t cost a single penny to do, required little  (if any) mental muscle, involved and included even the youngest of the family members, consumed less than an hour, and resulted in more family fun than parents or children should legally be allowed to have.

Family fun time:  It’s at the heart of “The Home Feeling”… give it a try.


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.


The Practicing Siblings

November 30, 2007

Smack!

A brief moment of silence… the deep intake of breathe before the scream erupts, I suspect.

WWWWWWAAAAAAAAA!!!!

Yep. Just as I suspected. Isaac and Brigham are “playing” together.  Sigh… more fighting.

Slowing I get up from my chair in my office. Not too easy to concentrate on digital isolation theories – let alone write a white paper on them – when mournful chaos is erupting in the room next door.

“Ok, boys, what is going on?”  “I-I-I-I-s-s-s-a-a-a-c, he h-i-i-i-t me-e-e-e!” my youngest boy wails.

Unfortunately, the scene is repeated more often then I’d like to admit. It seems that the chemistry between some of my children is just off.  They rather delight in inflicting pain and torture on each other.

It has been a parenting issue that has pressed heavily on my mind, and I have wondered repeatedly what to do. I’ve tried threatening, bribing, rewarding, begging, and, yes, even spanking. But to no avail – they seem as happy as ever to pull off the kid gloves the minute a minor conflict ensues.

About a week ago, during our morning family scripture study a thought popped into my mind. “The fighting has become a habit – a habit born of a lack of skills.  How do you break a habit? You don’t… you replace it.”  The thought was so strong it startled me.  Of course, they don’t have the skills yet – especially since I have not specifically and systematically taught them.

So, that very morning we digressed from the topic at hand and discussed habits and the ruts we often get into out of lack of skills, laziness, or both. We openly talked about the arguing and fighting.  In the end, as a family, we resolved that the only way to restore a higher level of peace and harmony was to replace the habit of fighting with other, more peaceful tactics.  And to do that we had to practice.

So, corporal punishment, threatening, bribing and punishments (at least in its old form) went out the window, and practicing came into play.  Here’s how it works… the second an argument begins (or even before if Margie and I are on hand), the offending siblings are split apart and asked if they are making good choices.

“No”

“Ok, then how could we handle this better?”

A calm conversation follows giving various alternative responses.  Once that is settled, they get to “practice” handling the situation the calm, peaceful and rational way.  Ideally, they get to practice 5 or 6 times… but sometimes parental patience only accommodates once.  Regardless, they practice doing it right.

The result?  Harmony.  First of all, it turns out that being compelled to change your attitude in the midst of a good mad is just about the worst punishment that you can inflict on a child.  Second, real conflict resolution skills are being emphasized, learned, and applied by our children (and, oh, the humility of confession… but also by their parents!).

Is it a lot more work for us as parents?  Yes. Do we enjoy doing it? Not really. Do the benefits far out-weigh the cost?

Most definitely.


The Black Eye

November 29, 2007

By the second day, the large goose egg just above Esther’s eyebrow was hardly noticeable.

It kinda surprised me considering the hammer end of a large claw hammer had hit her pretty hard.  Esther was excited to see the swelling go down and the tenderness go away… and thought the worst of it was over.  But having seen a few black eyes in my day, I knew it had just begun.

The “attack of the claw hammer” happened on one of our Thursday Service Nights.  You see, about 3 months ago, we decided that a weekly service project would help all of us get out of the house, spend some quality family time, and reap the rewards of giving freely to others.  It has been a blast!

On this particular night, we were at a friend’s new house, helping them remodel.  It is an old house – built around the 50’s or so.  The walls were all lathe and plaster, reinforced with chicken wire.

Esther, with dust mask on, was going after the living room wall with a vengeance, when she got in a tug-of-war match with a section of wire.  In the end she won.  With a mighty wrench, the wire suddenly gave up its grasp on the wall, causing the hammer to jerk back and even more suddenly connect with her eyebrow.

Well, by the fourth day, the draining started… the large pool of black and blue blood that had collected above her lovely brow, began to ooze down… first into her eyelid… then taking her eye hostage… and then finally running in streaks of violet down her cheek.

The colorful display stayed for almost 2 weeks, standing as a monument to her willingness to serve selflessly and at the cost of personal injury.  Because, you know what?  The next Thursday, she was right back at that wall, hammering, pulling, and tearing with the rest of us.

Family service… give it a try… just watch out for the hammer.