Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Courage to Let Go

Starling in Flight
Fraser's Birding Blog
When it is time to let go, it is mom and dad who need courage. I love this poem for any age, but especially in the coming season of graduations and letting go.

Richard Wilbur made me think of my three daughters and son in "The Writer."  I bet you can see yours in the poem below as well.

I first shared this in 2010. We still "wish what we had wished you before, but harder" for our children, who are now outside the window.


"The Writer"

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.



Do we open windows for our children, windows to the world so they can find their way out of us and to their call? While we hope for ease, can we watch and pray while they go through the hard work, knowing that a rescue weakens them and the battle gives strength and courage?

And, another reason to stay out of the way sometimes.  "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Succeeding in College

Below is an odd piece for Building Bravehearts. It is a piece I have been toying with to help address college success of students in Arkansas, where I live. I am convinced that academic ability is important, but more is needed to actually succeed in college. Notice that all seven qualities are themes throughout Building Bravehearts and can be used anywhere at no cost: character, service, passion, wisdom, mindset, relationships, and values. 
Your feedback is welcome as I refine the ideas!  


  Deep College Prep

            Only two states and the District of Columbia have worse college graduation rates than Arkansas.  Only thirty-nine percent of Arkansas students who begin a four year public college graduate within six years.

            What do we do about it?  How do we see more young people spend less time, less money, learn more, and graduate often?

I grew up in rural Kentucky with a suspect academic background.  Neither of my parents finished high school, my father only going through eighth grade.  He worked in a factory.  I should not have been one of those who graduated from college.  But, there are some reasons that I made it, reasons that go deeper than our traditional approach to increasing levels of graduation rates.  Reasons that will work for our children.

            The Department of Education has rightly focused on strengthening the quality of learning through elementary, middle, and high school.  The University of Arkansas system and other colleges are working with high schools, admissions, and incoming students to build their academic abilities.  These are needed and good.

            However, while increased academic quality is essential, we can’t stop there.  More is needed to succeed.  A student who has ability and has learned good skills and knowledge is like a basketball player who has natural ability and has been coached well.  The player needs that ability and those skills to play at a higher level.  But, he needs a lot more to succeed. He needs things like increased commitment, harder work, teamwork, coachability, and other personal qualities. A student going to college also needs ability and skills. But, the student needs strong personal qualities to actually make it through college and graduate.

            Below are seven competencies that will help any student succeed in college.  These qualities go deeper than academic ability alone.  When a student has them, the student more often succeeds and can even overcome a weaker academic background. With a good academic background and these deep college preparations, our students will have successful college experiences.

            First, a student needs strong character.  Character will keep the student making good choices when away from home.  Poor choices about time, money, and people lead to failure quickly.  Courage to do right can be learned.  Parents help children develop strong character by being examples and by making sure their children have other adults and peers who value positive character.  As parents live out good character, they should talk about what is important and why with their children, even teens.

            Second, a student should focus on others.  Learning to serve others will help a student fit into a bigger world.  If a student thinks that everything is about him and then runs into the realty in college that life isn’t that way, he crashes and gives up.  Families and schools can encourage students to meet needs in their community or further away. Becoming involved with people different than their family can help students prepare for the bigger world of college.

            Third, a student should have a passion for something important.  This passion will give him a direction in college and a reason for what he is doing.  While passions may change, parents who encourage children to pursue a purpose with heart will have children who expand their abilities, grow strong, and do amazing things.  Listen and encourage dreams.  Avoid telling a child it is impossible or that he is too young for something big.  Give him or her purpose.

            Fourth, wisdom will help a student gain respect and manage day-to-day life with friends and finances.  Wisdom is the practical application of things we know about people and life.  It says things like, “be slow to speak,” “be slow to anger,” and tells us that words are pretty empty without actions.  Expect children to pause before reacting, think about good ways to solve problems, and to treat people right.  Wisdom is a powerful gift to give children to prepare them for college success.

            Fifth, a student with a great work ethic will make good use of money and time in college.  Not everyone will be a scholar with straight A’s, but everyone can become the best they can be. Parents should not let children think that grades or honors can be bought or they deserve them.  Applaud effort, not grades or touchdowns scored.  Effort will serve students well in every situation, especially if things are hard.  A student with a mindset of working hard to make things better instead of giving up will do well in college.

            Sixth, good relationships are important for college success and life.  Lone rangers can get wrapped up in their own thoughts and not get the support that a college student needs.  They are at a great risk for emotional problems.  And, much of success in college and life depends on working with people.  Help children become involved in groups and activities in which they have an interest.  Be relentless to find a place and a group where children are doing something they enjoy with others outside of class in school, church, or the community.

            Seventh, a child who values education will find ways to get it and make it work.  Adults in children’s lives must value education and make sure their children know how important it is to them, both mothers and fathers.   While my parents didn’t finish high school, I knew all of my life that education was important to them, especially for my sister and me.  They taught us that education was the way to live a different life with opportunity that they didn’t have.  I valued it and that value kept me going.


            While these seven ideas for deeper college preparation won’t guarantee that children will succeed in college, they will give them a much better chance of a wonderful college experience that ends in graduation.  As parents, schools, and churches are intentional about preparing students in these areas, deep roots grow to support college success.  At little cost and possible for every child.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Poles in the Way

All of the sudden, a barricade of poles appeared on the steep part of the trail where I walk. I have seen a lot of odd things in these woods, but never had someone put logs in my way.

I wasn't about to go around the poles just because someone put them there. And, stepping over was hard. I was irritated that someone had messed up my walk.

Until the fourth day. For three days I grumbled to myself as I climbed, having to lift my foot high to step over the poles. On the fourth day, I didn't lift my foot high enough, so I stepped down on the poles.

I realized that I had been making a mistake. Certainly complaining was a mistake, but my whole view was off. Probably because I didn't like someone interfering with my trail, I liked it how it was. My attitude clouded my eyes.

When I stepped down on the poles, I realized this wasn't a barrier to make it harder.

This was a step.

It actually made the climb up or down easier and safer. Why didn't I see it sooner?

I wonder how often I see things as barriers, as trouble, and they are really steps to help me get up or down. I wonder how the way I look at things makes them hard when they could be for good.

Isn't it this way with most problems? We really do learn from them, which then helps us take the next step even better.

Or fears. When we step right up to those things we are afraid of, instead of going over them or around them, we build courage for the next time and begin to look at obstacles as opportunities. We grow and learn that obstacles help make us who we are, for good. And, our example as we encounter problems influences others, especially our children.

Our children need to see problems and fears as opportunities to grow and make a difference, not something to strenously high step over or find another way around. The value comes from our attitude, our approach, to the obstacle. Grumbling and avoiding only bring us down. Seeing obstacles as opportunies takes us higher.

Is it an obstacle or an opportunity?

Courage is built by taking one step at a time.
Grumbling or giving in keeps our children from learning that they can step up, that things do work out, that God won't try them beyond what they can endure. That He is with them, now and in the future.

If we use the poles as steps

Let's help our children learn this much faster than I did!


Monday, September 30, 2013

The Most Common Command


N. T. Wright, in Following Jesus, says this:

"As the college barman in my undergraduate days once said to me, 'The trouble is, everything Jesus is against-I like.' But this conception of God is in fact a lie. The resurrection of Jesus proves that it's a lie. Do you know what the most frequent command in the Bible turns out to be? What instruction, what order, is given, again and again, by God, by angels, by Jesus, by prophets and apostles? What do you think-'Be good'? 'Be holy, for I am holy'? Or, negatively, 'Don't sin'? 'Don't be immoral'? No. The most frequent command in the Bible is: 'Don't be afraid.' Don't be afraid. Fear not. Don't be afraid."

"Every one of us has something on her or his mind about which we badly need a voice to say: 'Don't be afraid. It's going to be all right.' As the Lord said to Lady Julian: 'All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.' Let's make no mistake about it: until you learn to live without fear you won't find it easy to follow Jesus."

We, and our children, won't find it easy to be and do what God has planned for us until we replace fear with heart. May we learn to trust. And, "All shall be well."

P.S. Thanks to Jim Wilhoit for leading me to this.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Afraid to Lose

We were closing on an undefeated volleyball season. Each match got harder. The opponents weren't getting better, but it was increasingly hard to play the way that got us where we were: smart, aggressive, loose. I remember a reporter talking with me about the team, asking what would keep us from going all the way, why we seemed to be struggling in the last couple of matches.

I didn't hesitate. "We are becoming afraid to lose."

The more we won, the more we became afraid to lose.
And, when you are afraid to lose, you play a different game. 
You hold up on hits, don't take chances, you just keep the ball in play instead of going for the kill.
Which gives the other team a chance, they become the strong ones, and you find yourself always in a defensive posture, digging and diving their hard hit balls instead of making the other team do that.

I watched a classic high school volleyball match recently. Two great teams with a long rivalry.
The match went to five games and it was close to the end.
But, you could see it, you could see it in their eyes.
You could see the favorite team, the one who usually won, become afraid to lose.
They weren't used to losing, but the other team had some good plays and had them down.
The favorites starting playing it safe. They kept the ball in play, but in a way that let the other team set well and hit hard. The favorites played defense instead of hard ball. They were afraid to lose.
They lost.

Fear freezes.
And, creates losers.
It is true in sports, relationships, work, growing. Pretty much everywhere.

We can help our children by teaching them to notice when they are taking a defensive posture. We can help them notice when fear instead of faith is driving their choices.

Noticing the slip into a defensive mindset lets a coach call a time out and tell the team what they are doing, to readjust their mindset and get back to what wins games.

Sometimes we need to help our children by calling a time out. Pulling them back from the busyness of life and pressures of the day and adjust their approach. And, maybe check our's to make sure we aren't the reason they are afraid to take risks and play to win, whatever the situation.

They need our help, our love that is deep enough to do what is best for them and helps them address fears.
"Perfect love casts out fear."

Timeout. Call a timeout. When things aren't moving forward and they are back on their heels. Timeout.

Pray and encourage and understand, so they can move from defense to joy and life, lived with passion and pursuing the win, not afraid of losing.




Friday, September 13, 2013

The Second Essential Question Needed for Courage: Is It Wise?

The Fuzzy

"Is it right?" was the first essential question needed for courage (See "Is It Right?").

But what happens when right is not clear?
Wisdom is needed.

Wisdom helps sort out the fuzzy. It gives confidence when knowing what to do isn't real clear. It can be figuring out if the idea is right. Or, deciding how an idea is applied to a life, how it is used. Wisdom is where truth bumps life.

Knowing that something is right gives confidence for courage. But, how can our children know if something is right and worth the risk, if it is not spelled out?

I had the audacity years ago to teach a class called "Knowing God's Will" in the Lay Institute of Dallas Seminary. I am still not sure why they let me do it, but I hope today that I at least caused no harm. I pointed the class to some ideas that I think are right. I have learned some things since then, too.

"Knowing Gods' Will"  gets down to using wisdom to decide if something is right or wrong to do. Lots of books have been written, you might go to some. But, below is a starter. These are things that a child should learn, to sort out life in the fuzzy times, to know when to step out in faith and with courage.

1. Pray. Maybe I should just stop there. James chapter one says that God gives wisdom to those who ask. The beginning point of wisdom is to put God in His place and understand life through His eyes.
2. Ask the Bible. Wisdom relies on truth, and particularly truth from the Creator. The Bible provides poignant truth for all people, about how life really works. Second step for wisdom is to see if the Bible speaks into the situation, either directly or indirectly.
3. Ask others. I am pretty confident that people have figured out whatever I am stuck on before. Ask a variety of people. Ask friends and family who love you and want your best. We can easily deceive ourselves; others help us see situations from different views and bring new and tested ideas.
4. Listen. Sometimes we don't understand and don't hear because we don't listen. Or, we are trying to listen where it is too noisy. Help your child find quiet and peaceful pockets in life so words can be heard and thoughts had. Scheduling every minute and filling the rest with screens and audio blocks truth and confuses thoughts. Outdoors seems to help, just playing or walking.
5. Know self. Help your child know his or her gifts and interests. Help your child try different parts of life to see how God made him or her. Discovering self happens best when fed with ideas and opportunities, used. Wisdom often results from following one's gifts and passions.
6. Pros and Cons. Sometimes just writing down the good and bad helps. Writing often brings clarity to thinking.
7. Feel freedom. If God is speaking and counsel is directing, feel confident to move that direction, with heart. But, a lack of being clearly told is not a reason to stand still; often the choice to move in faith is followed by understanding and affirmation. If there is nothing saying "don't," we should feel the freedom to do it. At least try.

The goal is to sort out fuzzy choices so your child can act with courage, not be afraid to try and move forward. The actions above may help. Practice helps. Wisdom is often an art more than a science, led by the Holy Spirit. Help your child to progressively practice using these tools, kind of like giving them paper and crayons. Then sharp scissors when they are ready!

Lord willing, it will be clear that the choice is the right one.

Then, the next question is: "Who should do it?"
Your child. Or someone else?

Helping a new person in school.
Giving money to missions.
Hugging a hurting friend.
Rescuing a dog from a fire.

All good. And right.
But, who should do it?

Courage not only comes from knowing it is right to do, but knowing you are the right person at that time.
How do you know? How does your child know he or she is the one, for that time and place?

Coming up: "Am I the one?"





Saturday, July 13, 2013

The First Essential Question Needed for Courage: Is It Right?

Let me invite you to explore four essential questions that our children, and we, must answer to be a braveheart. Today, I will explore "Is it right?" and then catch the others in later posts. Here are the questions:
1. Is it right?
2. Is it wise?
3. Am I the one?
4. Do I trust?

With the right answer to these questions, courage happens, courage that makes a difference.

Question one: Is it right?

Are the words or the actions that are wanting courage "right" to do? And, let me add two other questions we could ask that might help in some situations: "Is it good?" or "Is it excellent?" Or, maybe you can think of other questions that would help decide if words or actions are important and hard enough to need courage. But, lets start with "Is it right?"

Knowing that something good and right needs done or said is the power behind courage, and prevents courage from slipping to foolishness. To have courage, a person must know a right or a good. A person without an understanding of right and good has no reason to be brave.

Trying to decide between right and wrong, or good and bad, can sound simplistic. Sometimes the distinction is simple and works well, but sometimes it doesn't.

For example, you can be sure that telling the truth and being kind are right. Rooted in the Bible and in most cultures, these are standards of right and wrong. If a person is being picked on, it is right to be kind to him. If the building inspector asks you if you are following code, the truthful answer is right.

Doing or saying the right thing can cost. Being kind to someone who is ostracized by the group can result in the group ostracizing the kind person. Telling the truth to a building inspector can result in more expensive work. But, they are right.

Not to become legalistic, but are we teaching children things that are cleanly right and good? Things that they will not doubt because they are taught in God's word and are common sense. And, how do we teach? It is best done by word and example. What do they know from you and me by what we teach and model, not "Do as I say and not as I do" but "Do as I say and do!" What is our source of rights and wrongs in life? What is our authority? And, what do we teach or model unintentionally?

Dana and I were just talking about some things we think our children learned from us, and some were not intentional. Between annual vacations and moving, they learned to have adventure and that moving is okay. They learned that they can live away from their parents, because we did. They learned to value books and reading: that one was intentional! What are your children learning is right and good from you?

Picking a right can get complicated. It is right to tell the truth, always. But, Paul says in Ephesians to "speak the truth in love." As in most decisions to act or speak, there is right. But, the right needs to be done in
love, for the best of the other person. The controller is love. That is clear. But, knowing what that means in any specific situation can be fuzzy. How much of the truth? Do you write a note, give a hug, or shake your finger?

Let's not get lost in the fuzzy. Fuzzy can often become an excuse to not do or say the right thing: "I don't know if this is right to say because I might hurt her, so I won't say anything." Fuzzy means be careful, not give up on doing right.

That is why we need wisdom. Wisdom sorts out the fuzzy. And, often points to the best way to act or speak.

A discussion on wisdom is coming. But, don't wait! Start now. Ask God. James 1:5 says: "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." That will hold you over!