Back To School

Back To School

Now that our oldest is safely and happily in his Pre-K classroom, I’ll spend my day like most parents on the first day of school – wondering how in the world I’m going to survive dropping him off at college.  Don’t get me wrong, by bath time tonight, I might be dreaming of sending him to college or possibly boarding school but, for right now, Pre-K is all I can handle.  Even as I’m writing this, I find myself praying that he’s having fun, feeling comfortable and not stealing anyone else’s snack.

This whole adventure of parenting is filled with more highs and lows than I ever would have imagined.  When I was a kid, I thought grown-ups had all the answers, were never afraid and totally had this thing called life figured out.  I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be; it would have rocked my world to know how unsure, overwhelmed and, at times, scared my parents must have been.  But now that I am a grown-up (or at least a parent), I’ve come to realize they must have felt that way.  And I’ve come to realize that’s a good thing.  All of that parental uncertainty draws two things out of my heart.

One, compassion for other parents.  It’s really easy to judge parents when you don’t have kids.  But, once you join the sleep-deprived club, you realize that everyone’s trying to do their best.  No, we don’t all parent the same way and, yes, the Bible has plenty to say about how we should raise our children.  But, wow, this parenting thing is hard enough without all the critiquing and criticizing we’re all tempted to run to as a way of covering our insecurity.  Our little people need us to stick together and keep the Moma Drama to a minimum.

Two, dependance on God.  The one thing that helps me sleep well at night is the certainty that God loves my kids more than I do.  At times that seems hard to believe but I know it’s true – they were His idea long before they were mine and He sacrificed more for them in Jesus than I ever will.  He has plans and purposes for their little lives and, in His wisdom, He knew that growing up with me and Laura as their parents was the best way to bring those plans to fruition.  He’s a source of wisdom, grace and strength when we don’t know what to do.  We just need to humble ourselves enough to ask.

In the sea of our parental uncertainty, Laura and I are trying to stay anchored in three commitments this school year:

  1.  Assume the best of and pray for your child’s teacher.  No, your kid’s teacher isn’t going to do everything exactly the way you would.  By the way, even if you homeschool, you’re not always going to meet your expectations for yourself!  In the moment when you are tempted to send that fiery email, take a breath and assume the best.  Make it a habit to pray regularly for your child’s teacher.  Ask God to strengthen, encourage and bless him or her.  Ask the Lord to work through this person to shape your child’s heart and mind.
  2. Show grace to other parents and families.  I was thinking about this the other day when I saw the list of foods banned from our kid’s school.  My goodness – PreK has turned him into a functional vegan.  By the time you add up everything that anyone in the classroom is allergic to, he’s pretty much going to eat celery for a year.  No flax seed?  Fine.  No peanut butter?  You just messed with a pillar of American education!  Does all of this make lunch a little more complicated?  Yeah.  Is it a big deal?  Not really.  The Bible calls us to outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)  Make that your goal when interacting with other parents and families – whether it’s about lunch, birthday parties or what tv shows they watch.
  3. Love your kid without comparing your kid.  If your kid had a melt down this morning, it’s easy to wish he was more like the confident little bugger down the road.  If, on the other hand, your kid leaped out of the mini-van and barely said goodbye, it’s easy to wish he was more like the sensitive kid down the road.  Why go there?  Love the kid God entrusted to you and make sure he or she goes to bed tonight knowing how proud you are of him/her, no matter how today went.

Before long, all the emotion of today will fade.  But, if it leaves us all a little more humble, dependent and compassionate, then it really will have been a good first day.

 

(Photo courtesy of  Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

One on One with Jack

IMG_2734When Laura and I first became parents, it was a tag team sport.  And most days it felt like we needed two of us to keep up with Jack.  Then Aidan showed up and we were evenly matched – kind of a man to man defense situation.  In a few short weeks, the game is going to change again and we’re going to be forced into a zone defense where we’re outnumbered.

All of that is fairly predictable.  What I didn’t expect is how powerful one on one parenting moments would be in the life of our kids and how early we would need to start.  By three and a half, Jack has come to love what we call “guy time.”  The only one who loves it more is me (and possibly Laura when it means she gets a good nap!).

I’ll be honest – we don’t have earth shattering conversations.  It’s not like we’re reading great books and debating the finer points of theology.  We’re not analyzing the hidden idolatry of our souls.  Most of the time we aren’t even talking – we’re just hanging out, doing something and having fun.  But every once in a while, he’ll turn the corner and talk for a few minutes about something that’s on his mind – preschool in the fall, church or wanting a snack.

But those times let him know that he matters in the chaos of a growing family.  They remind him that his little voice matters.  And they keep him rooted in the truth that his Dad loves him a whole lot.

For us, “guy time” doesn’t have to be some amazing experience or big moment.  Just getting time alone is enough.  So, if God has blessed you with multiple kids, be intentional in creating alone time with each of them.  They’ll become some of your favorite parenting moments.

Parenting Is Discipling

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I love that our Sacred Trust series brought us to 2 Timothy 3:14-15 yesterday morning:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Talk about the perfect text for Mother’s Day!  My goodness, it doesn’t get any better than that!

So much of the trajectory of Timothy’s life was due to the influence of a godly mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).  Timothy’s father was greek and most likely not a follower of Jesus.  But these two ladies made sure Timothy grew up knowing the Word of God.  As parents, we must do the same.  The most important people you’ll ever disciple are your children.

Of course, that begs the question of how to introduce our kids to the Bible, especially with young kids.  Let me offer you three suggestions:

  1.  Discuss. This is the easiest one because it’s as simple as asking your kids what they learned during their time at RCCKids.  We aren’t just babysitting your kids on a Sunday morning, we’re teaching them age appropriate lessons from God’s Word.  Ask them about it.
  2. Model.  One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is letting them see the example of you prioritizing time in God’s Word.  They aren’t ever going to take God’s Word seriously if we don’t.
  3. Read.  Laura and I absolutely love the Jesus Storybook Bible.  As a church, we give it to every family at our Parent Commissioning/Baby Dedications.  But owning one is no where near as good as regularly reading to your kids from it.  Make it part of their bedtime routine.

Every parent knows how much our kids watch and mimic us – it’s painfully obvious when we realize we’re the source of the new word they shouldn’t be saying!  How amazing would it be to take that potential and use it to raise a generation that loves the Word of God.

51 Hours

IMG_3058Last week was a big one for the McGowan’s.  Laura enjoyed some much needed time to rest and replenish with one of her closest friends in Raleigh.  That meant Jack, Aidan and I enjoyed a little guy time around the house.  When I say a little, I mean 51 hours.

To be honest, I loved getting that time with the boys.  We had a lot of fun, ate a lot of pizza and played for hours.  I will also say I developed an even deeper appreciation for my wife and all those who spend their days caring for children.

A few random observations:

  • When I was in college, they sold caffeinated water on campus.  We used it to make coffee.  I haven’t seen that product in a while (and it’s entirely likely the FDA has banned it).  That’s too bad.  They should sell that stuff by the gallon at Buy Buy Baby.
  • There is literally nothing a 2.5 year old boy will not try to climb.  See photo above.
  • Just because a 2.5 year old boy can climb up doesn’t mean he can climb down.  Also, see photo above.  For the record, Laura, when Jack tells you he was not being safe, got stuck and scared and that Daddy rescued him, this is what he’s talking about.  Of course, he may also be talking about trapping himself in the shower in the basement.  But there’s no photographic evidence of that one.
  • The amount of strategic planning required to plant, fund and lead a church is nothing compared to the planning it takes to use the bathroom or shower with two little kids around the house.
  • Bathing two kids at the same time leaves you as soaked as sitting on the 3rd row at Sea World.

Here’s one final one:  I love being a Dad. 

I know so many single guys who fear settling down, growing up and taking on the responsibility of a wife and kids.  I totally get it; I was one of you for years.  And, yes, I now consider 10pm staying up late and can have an in depth conversation about sleep training an infant.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  So, guys, don’t fear what will be one of the greatest blessings in your life.

Life’s Great Juggling Act

jugglingA friend texted me the other day to ask how I was doing.  My response was a pretty accurate summary of how I feel most days, “You know – just trying to be a good husband, father and pastor all at the same time. Feel like I usually get two of the three right any given day. Would love to figure out how to do all three!”  God has entrusted me with three main responsibilities in life: being Laura’s husband, Jack and Aidan’s dad and the Pastor of Restoration City Church.  It’s a constant juggling act and, truth be told, I only have the ability to keep two balls in the air at any one time.

That’s always bad news for at least one ball.  Some weeks, I neglect the church for the sake of my wife and kids.  Other weeks, I neglect my wife for the sake of the church and kids.  Some weeks, it’s the kids who get put on the back burner.  Trust me, I would love to serve all three groups well at the same time.  I just can’t.

Maybe you feel the same way?

What I need to be reminded of on a daily basis is that real power in life is found just on the other side of “I can’t.”  When I stop at “I can’t”, life seems hopeless.  My response to my friend should have included one more line. “But God can.”  It’s pride and self reliance that makes us think the answer is found in improving our juggling skills.  I realize now, more than any other time in my life, that only God can give me the power to live the life I want.  I dream of being a great husband, dad and pastor.  But I’ll never get there in my own strength.  It’s only through the power of God in my life that it’s possible.

God knows we can’t live this life without Him.  That’s why He’s given us the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (Jn.14:16)  God has placed the Helper we need deep inside our souls.

Stop trying to keep all the balls in the air by yourself.  You can’t.  Balls drop.  People get hurt.  You end up defeated, frustrated and depressed.

But there’s more power in you than you can image.  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rm. 8:11)  There’s a life giving, resurrection Spirit inside of you.  He’s the hope and strength you and I need for today.

What are the primary responsibilities and relationships God has entrusted to you?  Are you carrying them all well?  Are you willing to allow God to supply you with the power you need?

The Boys

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Jack & Aidan

It’s hard to believe Aidan is already seven days old.  A week ago, I was holding him for the first time.  Today, I can’t imagine life without him.  I remember being amazed when Jack was born how quickly I fell in love with him.  I’m happy to say the same holds true the second time around.  I love those little boys with a love I never knew was possible.

In a couple of days, Jack will turn two. Until then, Laura and I get the joy of saying we have two boys under the age of two.  As a total aside, it’s pretty hilarious to see the looks of sympathy, pity and confusion we get from people when we say that!

Jack and Aidan both need their diapers changed constantly.  Neither one can feed themselves.  They don’t have a clue what’s in their best interest.  Crying is common.  Sleep is frequent for them but rare for us.

They are also incredibly joyful, trusting, loving and happy little people.  Jack can’t get enough of Aidan, constantly wants to know where he is and will go ballistic if you try putting him to bed before he can kiss Aidan goodnight.  Aidan is a little trooper who has already made a huge mark on our family.

They are totally helpless but totally trusting.  Inadequate but have everything provided for them.  Selfish but loved.  Sacred but safe.

And Jesus tells you and me we must see ourselves the same way to enter the kingdom of God, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.“(Mt. 18:3)  That runs deeply against our human nature.  It’s wired into us to grow up, be good at something and earn your place in life.  Jesus invites us into something different – the wonder of grace.

The gospel is the story of a perfect God becoming sin on the cross so that sinners could become perfected in God’s sight through faith in Jesus.  God doesn’t expect us to get our lives together, impress Him and earn His favor.  He’s totally certain we could never do that on our own.  He’s comfortable with our helplessness, our inadequacy, our fears and our selfishness.  He offers us life not because we’ve earned it but because He’s earned it on our behalf.

So many of us strive to act like we have it all together.  Maybe we’re trying to impress others and maybe we’re trying to impress God.  Either way, it’s exhausting. And unnecessary.

I don’t hate Jack and Aidan because they need Laura and I.  If anything, it makes me love them more.  I love being strong for them, teaching them, lifting them and protecting them.

But I also love knowing I have a Father in heaven who is strong when I am weak (2 Cor. 12:9), who fights for me (Ex. 14:14) and who will provide for me (Mt. 6:26).  Honestly, I don’t think I could be strong for my boys if God wasn’t strong for me.  That’s our privilege as followers of Christ – to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.“(Heb. 4:16)

It’s okay to come to God as a helpless child.  In fact, it’s the only way to ever find Him.