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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Training an Eagle - Being a Parent

I am sitting in the chair that my second son spent so much time in over the last few years. His prom picture with the greatest girl you could hope your son could have in his life hangs on the wall to my left. Straight ahead is his team picture from the City/County All-Star game this summer. On the wall to my right hangs St. Louis Ram paraphernalia which is our favorite team. I'm blogging today because my "eagle" has taken flight and is now starting his new adventure in college about 240 miles south of home.
While I have had many tears over the last couple of days none of them were from sorrow, regret, or wishing for something different. I am so blessed to have watched my son grow into a man. The privilege and honor of parenting really manifested today as we said our good-byes, cried, hugged, kissed, and tried not to stay too long so the reality of being off on his own could begin to unfold.
Caleb and I have a great relationship. As you might guess we have very similar personalities. Sometimes I've felt bad about that and most of the time it has been a great joy. He has that same stubborn, independent streak and the same quiet intensity and determination which contain all sorts of "goods" and "bads" to them!
Our great relationship isn't the result of me being a perfect parent by any measurement. I've regretted how many times I've had to ask his forgiveness because I set such a poor example at times. I still remember the last time I spanked him and realized he had been belittled. He was nine and I sat with him and told him I would never spank him again and I ask him for forgiveness for how I treated him. I suppose that is how all "last" spankings go. I've ended up doing that with all my kids. There comes that day when it is not longer a justified punishment. It only serves to harm and diminish them as human beings. If you are a newer parent pay close attention to that one. Eight and nine years old seems to be the age, maybe a bit sooner for our daughters.
For my son's life I have been in a pastoral vocation. There is a false stereotype out there about pastors' kids. The truth of the matter is that the majority of pastors' kids tend to do much better in life than others, but human nature likes to dwell on the negatives. The vast majority of the kids I know whose Dad is a pastor are great kids and I'm grateful some of them are my kids good friends.
But, as a pastor, I've been very careful not to teach my children about Jesus and the wonder of God out of my vocation. I've always underlined life lessons from my main ministry of being a parent. In fact, the last eight months I haven't been a pastor in the vocational sense and my kids have observed no difference in this issue. I'm grateful for that experience for my kids. Saying this though, I've been a bit concerned I've "soft-peddled" faith and the reading of Scripture. My kids assure me (with a roll of eyes) that isn't the case. But I was compelled a few years ago to insure the importance of knowing Scripture in order to know God better would be the key legacy I would leave them. I knew Caleb would be the first to leave the nest. It may sound strange but I "knew" this when he was about 12. It was about that time I began to use one Bible for all my study, devotion, and learning situations. I took notes, wrote down people's phone numbers, and wrote different thoughts. Yesterday I gave that Bible to Caleb.
I don't think I've read the Bible very much in my kids presence. I never felt compelled to put on the show of reading my Bible. My kids knew I read my Bible because of the different questions I would ask them or they would ask me. Yet, I wanted Caleb to grasp the depth of my love for God's Word. I pray as he leafs through this Bible he will see a man who searches thoroughly to love his God and seeks to live like his Savior.
As I went outside today to let Caleb and his girlfriend Makenzie (a fantastic person in my son's life) could have their private "good bye" I thought about the responsibility of parents to protect their children and prepare them for days like today.
When they are tiny our protection manifest in preventing potential harmful things coming to them. We wash them, prevent them touching the stove, keep them from other sick kids, and keep a very vigilant eye on what they and others are doing. A little later we may actually let them touch the hot stove as a way to teach them more thoroughly about being "safe." We let them wander a little farther away but never out of our sight.
This continues to develop as they grow up. We let them go farther away and we even let them out of sight for longer periods of time. We start letting them stay with others we trust will operate as we do. We monitor what kind of media is coming their way. Bsrney, rate G movies, and the filter for bad language is pretty thick.
Lisa and I made some strong decisions that weren't necessarily common with all Christ following families. We were absolutely committed to public education for a couple of reasons. We both believe that followers of Christ need to be involved in order to bring about a difference. Also, I wanted my kids exposed to the hardships, vulgarities, injustices, and socio-economic diversity. This required a great deal of vigilance and counter teaching as we progressed through the school system. We would talk about maintaining integrity in our faith, living principled lives, and learning that this could bring about ridicule.
Interestingly enough, their peers have generally regarded them with respect and they haven't really dealt with too much negative peer pressure. I know my kids have cussed on occasion and just been plain mean to some people. As we were aware of some situations we would deal with them appropriately.
Finally, as the protection responsibility mandates, we have to let our kids have the opportunity to genuinely screw up. If we are fortunate the screw ups aren't devastating. We pray for the discernment of when to give a gentle reminder (without it sounding like nagging); we stop making phone calls and texting to one's whereabouts, and we allow curfew to become extended. All along we emphasize that nothing good happens after midnight. We have moved from being protectors, to insuring protection, to teaching about how to protect, and then, the hardest part, let them begin to protect themselves.
Today my son Caleb stepped into that responsibility. We will pray diligently that the strength of character that has marked him will continue to grow. We pray his steadfastness and determination will withstand the new, more difficult tests coming his way. We pray that his faith in Christ will become his own faith. It cannot be the faith of his parents, but his very own.
So, my eagle has taken wing. He is officially out of the nest. I pray that he will learn to soar and stay grounded at all times. This is a strange paradox for sure, but true nonetheless. Our dreams can only be appreciated with a strong foundation and anchor in Christ. May my son soar like the eagles and have a foundation that is deep and wide.
My last words to him tonight were,"Keep your path straight." I showed him how to leave the nest. My tears tonight are because I'm proud of him. He flew away. He'll circle around and land periodically for sure, but the flight is all his now. Thank you Lord for the honor and privilege of raising up your gift. I pray I have served you well Lord.

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