Sunday, December 26, 2010

True Grit

The old True Grit with John Wayne is my favorite movie.  It was tested last night when my family went to see the new True Grit with Jeff Bridges. I really enjoyed many parts of the new film.  But, the old one still holds my heart with memorable scenes like Glen Campbell in the boarding house and John Wayne in his final charge into the bad guys.  And, I liked the happier ending in the old movie (even though Glen Campbell died).  Both are great films.

In case you haven't seen the movies, Maddie Ross is a fourteen year old girl intent on avenging her father's murder.  She was seeking a man with "true grit" to go after her father's killer.  She chose Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne/Jeff Bridges), not because he was a "good" federal marshall, but because he got the job done, usually with little regard for those who got in his way.  He was wild and rough, but "Little Sister," Maddie, won a place in his gruff heart.
Who is the braveheart in the film?  On the surface, it was Marshall Rooster Cogburn.  Maddie was seeking a man with "true grit" who would help her find her father's killer.  And, she was confident she had found him in Rooster.  But, Maddie confessed later that maybe she had picked the wrong man for "true grit" when Rooster faltered.  She had actually found two strong men to fight, but men less than perfect and turned  at times by selfishness and money (Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger Glenn Campbell/Matt Damon).

Who is the person in the movie with real "true grit," the real braveheart?  Unfaltering, courageous, steadfast, persistent, and sacrificial? 

It is Maddie herself.

The men served a purpose, helping Maddie with her passion.  How did she get such strong men to help and to actually follow her?  Her passion.  Nothing would get in the way.  An attitude of "get on board or I will find someone else."  Her noble call to bring her father's killer to justice drew big men to her side.  But, she was the one with real true grit, the braveheart in the movie.

Passion usually trumps giftedness, money, and pain in a braveheart's life.  A commitment to a noble cause takes the braveheart outside self and often into risky and difficult situations.  While I am a big believer in knowing our strengths and using them well, passion for a cause or a person will take a braveheart outside his or her areas of strength and ease.  Weaknesses can be compensated by others with the right strengths, like Rooster did for Maddie.  But, it is the commitment to a noble cause that leads and transcends weakness and difficulty.

How do we get our children to develop passions for noble causes that will drive them out of ease and into making a difference?  Here are a  few ideas.  Maybe you can think of  others.
* Be an example:  What is important enough in our lives as parents to choose risk and difficulty?
* Show ideas and needs:  Personally, in print, at the dinner table, or in film let them see real needs.
* Applaud trying:  Encourage them when they take a risk for another person or an idea.
* Prepare them: Help your children practice tackling challenges so they know they can and have confidence.
* Hold them loosely:  Don't force your passions and life plans on them, let God lead their hearts, encouraging when you can.

Maddie was the real braveheart with "true grit."
Passion triumphs.
The big guys follow heart.  Even Rooster.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Incarnational Parenting

At parent-teacher conferences, I picked out a dozen parents I thought were doing a great job raising their children.  Their children were positive "go getters," who worked hard, treated people well, and were always willing to help.  They were bravehearts, willing to try something new.

I asked each parent, "What do you do to make this happen?"  While there were variations on how it was done , every parent said the same thing.  They all said "we stay connected with our child."  No matter what the child had done or how busy they were, these parents kept a real connection.  They were very aware that they needed to build and keep a bridge into their child's life.  They were very aware of the danger of burning that bridge.

These parents stayed connected with their children in different ways.  Some had children who had developed a habit of talking each night at bedtime.  Some had regular meal times together to visit, no electronics.  Some used travel times in the car every morning as talk time.  Some parents of teenagers took naps early in the evening so they would be awake when their child came home more ready to talk. One took his fourteen year old son to breakfast once a week.  They all found ways to be there and create possibilities of communication.

Yet, none forced the conversation.  You can't make a child relate.  But, you can establish opportunities for relationship.  You can treat them with respect and not react to their frustrations or choices so he or she wants to talk with you.  You can listen a lot more than speak. When you do speak, you should pick your battles carefully; most things aren't worth ruining communication.  There are times to demand and rebuke, but it is often when and how those are done that keeps communication open or shuts it down.  As the saying goes, "earn the right to be heard."  But, you have to do that again and again.  Maybe a better picture is to "keep the bucket full" of positive interactions so when you have to draw out, there is plenty there.

At Christmas we celebrate God becoming a man and entering our broken world to rescue us.  Jesus stepped into our world of hurt, separation, and brokenness and offered himself as a sacrifice.  His incarnation, becoming flesh and living among people, made him the perfect rescuer.  By entering our world, he not only communicated in words and feelings we understand, but demonstrated his love for each person by his actions.

The idea of incarnational parenting, of stepping into our children's world, is key to communication.  This doesn't mean being a "helicopter parent," stalking them, or intruding in their relationships .  It does mean getting on the floor to play Pretty, Pretty Princess.  Taking them on outings they enjoy--not your favorites--before it is too late.  Maybe it is skipping school and work, and taking your twelve year old son rock climbing on his birthday.  It can mean taking your daughter to the mall to shop, and hanging out at the coffee shop just to be her fashion critic...and to help pay!  It means finding things children enjoy and sharing some of it, in their way and time.  Don't wait for your children to find these times.  It is your job.  They won't probably think of it until they are closer to thirty!

When I was fifteen, my dad wanted to show me how to change the oil in the car.  I had other things on my mind. As I got older, I often turned down his offers to enter his world and connect, one of those things I wish that I could go back and change.  But, I was so much like most children.  I wasn't drawn to enter his world, I needed him to enter mine at some level.

Are you up for entering the broken and difficult world of childhood and teen years?  Can you give up something of yours to find a time and way to spend time with your child in a way he or she appreciates?  Even if few words are exchanged, your willingness to give of yourself and enter his or her world will communicate your love.  Incarnational parenting means being there and finding ways to keep an open bridge of communication with each child.  Incarnational parenting will help your child become a braveheart, just like the parents I surveyed.

May God bless your efforts to connect with your child, give you the wisdom to know how, and the patience to wait until your child is ready to talk.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brain Science in Developing Bravehearts

 Edward Hallowell
Telling a child to try harder doesn't help a child try, except briefly.  Getting a child to have the courage to try cannot be forced. In "What Brain Science Tells Us About How to Excel" (Harvard Business Review, December 2010), Dr. Edward M. Hallowell talks about helping a young man using the "Cycle of Excellence."  Hallowell then applies the "Cycle" to business. We will apply it to building bravehearts.

Dr. Hallowell tells about working with a boy who has lost heart.

"As a child psychiatrist, I'm asked every day to help a struggling young person do better.  For example, I recently saw a boy I'll call Tommy, who was floundering in sixth grade in spite of increasingly vehement exhortations from his teachers and parents to try harder.  I could see how down cast he was, so I immediately turned to a process I've developed for kids like him."

"It began with figuring out what he liked to do (build things and play guitar) and what he was good at (math, science, music, and hands-on projects) and urging him to do those things more often."  Hallowell arranged for the boy to switch classes and advised adults to make sure he was "imaginatively engaged" instead of just sitting.  Rather than threatening, he encouraged adults to say, "I'm asking more from you because I know you have it in you."  The boy soon wanted to go to school, worked harder, and began getting positive feedback which encouraged him to try even harder.

Hallowell has five steps he uses in the "Cycle of Excellence."
1. Select the right task.
2. Connect with colleagues.
3. Play with problems.
4. Grapple with and grow from challenges.
5. Shine in the acknowledgment of your achievements.

In future Braveheart posts, we will explore these five steps and how we can use them to build our bravehearts.  In the meantime, we can begin thinking about what our children like to do and are good at.  And, begin finding ways to allow them to spend more time on these passions and strengths.

(For more information on Dr. Hallowell, go to

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Try, and Try Again

Keep Trying!
Last evening, a friend told me about his road to pastoring a large, growing church. He has a doctorate in a Engineering, not the normal background for pastor work. He said that there were many students in the doctoral program more intelligent than him, although I am not sure I totally believe that. My friend said that 90% of his success in the program was due to endurance. He had failed some courses, but kept trying while others with more natural ability quit. We talked about how many times we have seen the power of endurance in succeeding.

I don't generally use Parade Magazine as a source, but I can't resist the quote today of actor Jack Black: "The more sleep I get, the better dad I am. Parenting is 90% energy; if you don't have it, then there tends to be some lazy TV watching days with the kids, and that ain't gettin' it done. A great day with them--my sons are 4 and 2--is an energized adventure into the world." I like different parts of this statement, but for now, did you notice the 90% that my friend and Jack mentioned? Endurance and energy.

Building Bravehearts is about children succeeding by having the courage to try. Not just trying once, but trying again and again:  persevering, enduring. Which requires energy. Success in any endeavor--school, work, relationships, or parenting--depends on trying, over and over, even when things are hard. There is certainly an element of ability and skill needed, but those are empty without endurance.

How can we help our children learn to try and try again?

Our small group at church began studying James this week. What a powerful book of faith in action. Notice the result of the trials we face from James 1:2-3: "Consider it all joy, my brothers, 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."

Our children can learn endurance by trials. We can help them grow through trials instead of putting them in perfectly orchestrated situations where trials are practically absent. Or, even worse, allowing them to quit a class, a job, or a commitment before it has run its natural course (there are always exceptions, but quitting should be the rare exception, not the norm or first choice). There is value to trusting God's sovereignty in our children’s lives and helping them learn from what we may see as less than perfect situations. Be good parents, and don't put children in harm's way intentionally or in situations where they really can't succeed. But, let's be open to helping our children try, and try again in hard things, so he or she becomes a braveheart and succeeds like my friend.

Last, a side note. Endurance develops from facing trials. But Jack's point of the need for rest is well taken. We, including our children, endure and face trials better when some basics are in place. Rest is one of them, how are your children doing? How about good food, short on sweets and caffeine, and high on vegetables and good carbs? How about emotionally? Do your children have a safe place and feel loved? And the list can continue. What are other ways to make sure each child has energy and strength to endure?