Parenting Observation From the Supermarket

As a counselor and pastor who teaches on parenting issues, I can’t help observing the parenting I see in public.  Tonight at the supermarket I saw an extreme example of bad parenting.  I realize how difficult parenting is and we all have bad days, but thankfully the situation I witnessed tonight presents a couple of important lessons and reminders all of us need.

A mother was shopping with her two small children, both I would guess between the ages of about 4 and 7 years.   The children were hyper, excited, and inquisitive.  In my observation they were not misbehaving as much as acting their age, but I had not been with them all day and have no idea what stress the mother was under at the time.  I’m not casting any judgment on her frustration, but looking at the situation from the outside, I think most of us can agree it was not the best way to handle it.

Several times in the course of a few minutes the mother yelled at her kids, “Shut up or I’m gonna break your teeth.”  (I’ve never heard that line before, but that’s what she said.)

Problem One:
The problem with that, aside from the abuse standpoint, is that even if she doesn’t intend to do this to her children, she’s talking to very literal thinkers. Does she realize what her children hear at that age?  “My mom’s going to break my teeth.”

Reminder:  Young children are listening and the way you communicate with them must be age appropriate.  Not to mention that children should never be scared of their parents.  Threats produce fear.  A reverent fear or respect is one thing, but terror is another.

Problem Two:
She said this several times, which probably means she never intended to follow through.  I’m glad she wouldn’t break her children’s teeth, but that really exemplifies another problem. When a parent makes a commitment to punish the child and nothing happens, the child begins to quickly learn there are no consequences for wrong behavior, and so the misbehavior continues, further frustrating the parent and the child.

Reminder:  Don’t make threats to your children you aren’t prepared to carry through.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  (Just be nice in how you say it and say it with love.)

Again, I’m not trying to pick on one mother.  I don’t know her and she will probably never read this blog.  I really do believe, however, that our children are too important not to continually evaluate our parenting techniques.

How are you doing in your parenting this week?  Since the ultimate goal of this post is to help parents, for some parenting tips, check out the parenting category of this blog.

Would You Hire These Boys?




Sorry to pimp my sons on this blog, but it is my blog.  My boys need a job this summer.  Are you hiring? 


My 20-year old son Jeremy is a people-person. He builds relationships faster than anyone I know.  He’s intelligent, dependable, and is finishing his third year of college remaining pure.  He’s a leader among his peers and always has the best interest of others at heart.  He has sensed a call to ministry, but is still discovering his next steps of what that means.  He has a good part-time job now, but this summer he also wants a dependable full-time job where he can gain experience before he graduates.  He has successfully completed a church internship.  He wants to stay in the Nashville area, but if your company or church needs an employee you can depend on and trust, he’s your man.    



 My son Nate is 17 years old and a high school senior.  He surrendered to ministry several years ago.  He has one of the greatest passions for the Kingdom of anyone I know.  He has been super busy this year leading in our student and children’s ministries, as well as serving as student body president for his high school.  Next year it looks like he’s headed to Moody Bible College in Chicago.  He’s looking for something to do this summer.  This weekend, as we sent him off to lead another group of middle school boys in a discipleship program, he said, “All I want to do is preach this summer.  If I could preach every Sunday I’d be happy.”  If your church needs a speaker for church or youth services or camps, he’s available.  He’s not looking for money, just experience.  (BTW, he’s also an accomplished speaker on his school’s speech team.)

Things She Says To Get Me To Slow Down


Cheryl and I were driving in Nashville today and she said, “Speed limit strictly enforced” as she read a sign on the roadside.  I knew what she meant.  She thought I was driving too fast.  I Twittered this and got several comments on Twitter and Facebook from other women regarding their own tactics to subtly tell their husband they are driving too fast. 


Here are some comments Cheryl has used before:


“Wow, I didn’t know the speed limit was 35 here.” 


“They must really be strict about speeding on this road, because I’ve seen several people pulled over lately.” 


“I wonder how much speeding tickets are now.”


“I’ve noticed Jeremy (our son) sure has been driving fast lately.  I don’t know where he gets that from.” 


“We don’t ever get to just talk.   Let’s just slow down today, take it easy, and catch up.”  (Okay, she hasn’t actually used that one, but it’s only because she hasn’t thought of it yet.) 


So my question is: Why not just say, “YOU ARE DRIVING TOO FAST YOU IDIOT!”? I think I’d understand that one better.  When talking to men, it’s best to be direct.  They may get mad at first, but that’s the way we handle things.   (For more on this subject, read my post “My Right to Get Angry/Your Right to Cry”) 


Women, what tactics do you have to get your man to slow down?   (or speed up as the case may be) 

Do You Really Want This Marriage To Work?

I have spent so many hours with couples or individuals who come for counseling because they say they want to save or improve their marriage only to find that what they really wanted was some justification to get out of the marriage.  They were hoping I would be so convinced their marriage was beyond repair that I would encourage them to end it.  I would have to admit, I have encountered some seriously damaged marriages, but I have not found one beyond repair if both people are willing to try to make the marriage work.

I have learned one thing about life and it applies very well to marriage relationships.  You cannot take people where they do not want to go. If someone is convinced their marriage is over, they will either have to change their mind or God will have to intervene.  I have seen both happen, but if it doesn’t, the time in counseling is often wasted.  With that in mind, I begin quickly in the counseling process to ask couples three powerful questions. These questions kind of “cut to the chase” and help all parties determine how serious the couple is about saving or improving the marriage.  Here are the questions:

Where do you want this marriage to go?

You have to know where you want to go before you can make a plan to get there.  So many couples have never talked about what they want out of a marriage.  One person may think living two separate lives within the same house is enough while the other person wants to share everything.  Many people, especially men, think that if there isn’t much fighting in the marriage, then the marriage must be doing well.  The other person in the relationship wants deeper intimacy.

When a marriage is in trouble one person may have already decided they want out of the marriage.  Until this question is answered any attempt to help the couple is not going to be very effective.  Getting people to be truly honest in answering this question is critical.  I usually ask people to take a few days to answer this one; to search their heart and pray about their true feelings.  (Just so you know, I don’t write the marriage off if one of the couple is not ready to make this commitment.  It just alters the counseling process.  Instead of couple counseling, individual counseling with the party that wants out may be more effective.)  If they say they want the marriage to work we go to question number two.

How are you going to get there?

Once a couple knows where they want to go in the marriage the next step is developing a plan to get there.  This step is where the meat of help for the marriage is realized, but those plans cannot be implemented until all three questions are answered.  Sometimes couples want to jump straight into the solutions, but if each person’s heart is not into the changes they will be short-lived.

Taking the goals each person has for the marriage and where the couple says they want to go as a marriage, the couple then thinks through what must occur in the marriage in order for that goal to be realized.  If the couple wants their relationship with each other to be continually growing closer, for example, then the couple might need to plan more time to be alone with each other. It’s difficult to grow closer to someone you never see.  After these first two questions are answered, it’s time for question number three.

Are you truly willing to do whatever it takes to get to the place you want to be in your marriage?

This is by far the most important question, but it cannot be answered until the other two questions have been answered.  I have had people say to me when I ask them this question, “Well, of course I am willing to do what it takes. Would I be here if I wasn’t?”  That’s a fair question, but the fact is that if most of us were willing to do what we say we are willing to do, our marriage wouldn’t get into a desperate enough place to be seeking help.

People are usually willing to do things they want to do and, likewise, they aren’t willing to do things they don’t want to do.  That may sound like common sense, but it is so important to understand.  This third question helps to shake out the truth of the other two questions.  Sometimes it is easy to answer the first two questions, but this third question forces the person to take another serious look inside their heart.

These questions are not a shortcut to professional counseling.  Many couples need counseling to work through deeper or more serious issues.  Answering them in a way other than you want the couple to answer them is not a reason to give up on the marriage.  These questions will, however, provide couples with a basic understanding of the current condition of their marriage.  These questions can be helpful at any stage of marriage and regardless of the condition of the marriage they can assist in encouraging the marriage to grow in strength and intimacy.

How My Family Has Helped Shaped Me

I was reflecting this week about how much my family has shaped the person that I am today.  Without them, I would not be near as effective in ministry.

Here’s what I mean:

Cheryl:  (My wife)

  • Models patience for me.  (I haven’t copied exactly, but it’s a work-in-process)
  • Keeps me grounded in life.  (Her greatest joy in life is being with me and the boys.)
  • Gives me a consistent goal in life. (I want nothing more than for her to be happy.)
  • Teaches me to be a kinder, gentler person.  (Our church should be glad!)

Jeremy: (My 20 year old son)

  • Models forgiveness for me.  (He is the most forgiving person I know)
  • Encourages me to slow down and enjoy the moment (He’s a strong P in Myers-Briggs language)
  • Shapes an “it’s okay” attitude in my heart.  (He never seems to stress)
  • Opens me up to deeper conversations.  (He’s a talker and a tremendous relationship builder.)

Nate: (My 17 year old son)

  • Models reality for me.  (He sees things more in black and white)
  • Holds me accountable (Nate can be my biggest critic, but he’s usually right!)
  • Stretches my innovation.  (Nate is a creative thinker.  He is always challenging status-quo)
  • Keeps me light-hearted (No one makes me laugh more than Nate!)

Has your family shaped you?

Winning Back The Heart Of Your Wife

In working with marriages in distress I’ve discovered that the men in their life have injured most women emotionally, at least at some level.  To understand how this is true, one need first understand one of the ways men and women are different.  Men, as predominantly thinking beings, receive and process experiences in life in a predominately rational and logical way.  If someone says something that offends a man, he will accept or dismiss it based on whether it is true.

Women are different.  Women are more in tune with their emotions.  When life happens to them their dominant reaction is to respond emotionally.  When someone hurts a woman’s feelings, even though the information they receive may be false, they have a harder time working through the feelings associated with the emotional injury.  (Of course these are general statements, but they ring true for most men and women.) Every woman’s heart is injured to a certain extent.

The heart, speaking in terms of the seat of our emotions, was created much like other parts of the body.  When a finger is broken the body is designed to instantly start to heal and protect itself from further injury. The same is true of the heart.  When a person’s heart is injured, it goes into a self-protective mode to keep it from further injury.  Over time, after years of injury, the heart becomes almost calloused, refusing to allow anyone to injure the heart again.  A woman who has had years of emotional injury doesn’t have much heart left to give to anyone, but especially to the one who has done the injury.  She has closed off her heart to keep from being hurt anymore.

Most men enjoy trying to “fix” problems, but men cannot fix their wife’s emotions.  Emotions are not repaired as easily as one could fix a leaking faucet or program a computer.  So what is a man to do if he feels his wife’s heart is injured?  How do you heal a broken heart?  Of course, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He can come in, erase all the pain, and make the heart brand new.  Most of the time however, at least in my experience, He lets us wrestle with life’s heartache while we learn to better love one another.

The following steps are designed for a man to help heal his wife’s heart.  Recently a pastor came to me with a horrible story of his wife’s sexual abuse as a child.  Even today she struggles to trust any man, including her husband.  This is the advice I gave this pastor.

Practice Patience.
The first thing men need to do is to recognize that restoring a broken heart will not happen overnight.  Emotions heal very slowly.  Steps should begin to restore an injured heart or to rebuild the marriage, but men should not expect too much too soon.

Love Your Wife
This is by far their greatest need.  Most wives have their love need unmet. The standard for our love is perfection, since a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, so a man will actually never love his wife enough.  The wife knows, however, when the husband’s attention is somewhere else.  Most men sacrifice their marriage for their careers or other interests.  A wife’s love need is new every day.  A wife needs to know that she is second only to God in her husband’s affections.  I have found that for my love for my Cheryl to grow I need Christ’s help.  I pray for this often.

Romance Her
A woman has a need for romance.  Most wives had a fairy tale idea of marriage when they were growing up. They realize early in marriage this isn’t reality, but their need for occasional romance remains.  Men rarely know how to do this.  A man should be genuine, but should recognize and value the uniqueness of his wife and find ways to give her romance.  I gave my wife a “romantic” trip to New York City for Christmas one year. We were going to dance, walk through Central Park, and just enjoy each other.  It didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned it, but I earned huge points in the romance category with my wife.

Value Words
When a man comes home and says “This house is a mess”, being a mostly factual being, that’s probably all he meant.  He looked around, made a physical observation, and stated a factual conclusion. The wife, however, probably did not receive the information that way.  The wife most likely hears lots of negative information, such as, “You have done nothing all day”, or maybe even, “I don’t like you.”  That sounds impossible to most guy’s rational minds, but with emotions receiving information anything could be heard, whether that was the intended response or not.  Men need to learn how to be gentle with their wives and the words they use.   One question I ask men, “Would you let another man talk to your wife the way you talk to her?”

Communicate on Her Terms
Women communicate best heart to heart…not head to head.  A man should allow his wife to see his heart. He should be willing to be vulnerable with her.   Men may need to ask their wives to help them learn how to say things to her.  Men cannot talk to their wives as they would their guy friends.  Women require understanding, compassion, openness and honesty in communication.

Give Constant Assurance
Trust is an important need for a woman in relationships.  The wife needs to know that her husband is going to be faithful.  Men should not take offense, for example, when their wife asks details about their schedule or the activities of their day.  The wife desires to be a partner in her husband’s life and these details help her provide trust and security in the relationship.  A man should also tell his wife frequently that he loves her.  She needs this consistent assurance.

Learn to Live by Truth
Ultimately life cannot be lived strictly by emotions.  We need truth.  Emotions are often unreliable.  A woman who feels unloved may be very much loved by her family, but she fails to feel that truth because of years of emotional abuse.  Men should gently, but consistently speak truth in love, reminding his wife of her worth, her beauty, and her place in his life.  Over time truth, when given with love, can help heal damaged emotions.

Keep Doing It!
The heart is damaged over years and years of injury.   Sadly many women have deep and tragic heart wounds, but much of this injury will have been unintentionally delivered and small in terms of the magnitude of the incident.  Years of emotional injury builds up in the heart until the heart becomes closed.  The erasing of the pain will happen just as it was developed…a little bit at a time.  The husband cannot try this for a week and then stop.  Protecting a woman’s heart must become a lifestyle.

Recently I was talking with a man whose wife is experience deep depression.  As I talked with this man it became apparent that, though probably unknowingly, he had been damaging his wife’s heart for years.  He cannot seem to understand why his wife is so emotional; “Everything seems to upset her”, he said.    The man told me he had tried to help her through her problems and that everything they had going against them he could “fix” if she would let him.  I am not sure I could have ever convinced this man that his attempts at “repair” were probably one of the chief causes of his wife’s broken heart.

Most men tell me they don’t know how to be who their wife needs them to be or wants them to be.  I believe if we want to win back the heart of our wife we may need to learn how.  It’s never too late to begin!

Will You Hold Me Accountable?

Will you hold me accountable?

People always ask me about my relationship with my boys and what I did to cultivate it. I have two amazing sons who I deeply love. I am certainly one of their biggest fans. Thankfully, I think they like me too. It is a privilege to have them continue to come to me for wisdom now that they are 20 and 17 years old.

Some reasons:

  • I prayed for them daily
  • We spent a lot of time together. I never missed a game, practice, or school event unless I was out of town.
  • We threw, kicked, shot, and bounced a lot of balls
  • We talked a ton
  • I shared Biblical principles with them
  • I extended lots of grace (They did with me too)
  • I made sure they knew they always had my heart and my attention
  • We had mucho fun! (We laughed a lot!)

Our relationship has changed over the last couple years. My boys have gotten older and I’ve gotten busier. Still, we very much enjoy being together as much as we allow ourselves the time.

Lately, something has apparently gotten in the way that wasn’t there when the boys were younger. I have always been an “A” type personality. People ask how I can balance so much, and honestly it’s just because I’m never still. That hasn’t changed.  One thing has been added to my life though since the boys were younger. My Blackberry! Thankfully son number two is never afraid to call me on something. He loves to hold me accountable.

Recently he and I were going to breakfast together and when we arrived at the restaurant and were about to get out of the car the conversation went like this:

Nate: Are you going to take that (Blackberry) inside?

Me: I was planning on it.

Nate: Well can you not this time?

Me: Okay, but remember Nate, I am a pastor.

Nate: Yea, but you’re also a dad.

Okay, I’m slow, but I’m not that slow. I could argue that my family never leaves their phones in the car, but their argument would be that I receive 10 or more calls, texts, or emails every 30 minutes, so I left it in the car. My intent is to do a better job of putting it down when I have precious time with my family. Nate leaves for college in a few months. I want our time together to continue to count.

Will you hold me accountable? Periodically feel free to ask me how I’m doing.

How are you doing in this area?

Dr. James Dobson’s Resignation an Example for Leaders

Dr. James Dobson announced last week that he is stepping down as chairman of the board at Focus on the Family. He will continue to do his daily radio program.  You can hear him talk about it in today’s broadcast available at the site. It will be interesting how they will replace Dr. Dobson. For some of my thoughts in that area of leadership check out this previous post.

Recently I posted a criticism of some of the direction Focus on the Family has taken in recent years. You can read that post HERE, but basically I encouraged the organization to return to its roots of helping families and leave politics aside.

Today I need to compliment Dr. Dobson for his example to all of us to do what he feels is right for the ministry at this stage in its life. Many times leaders, especially founders, hang on too long to the reins of power and the succession of leadership becomes much more difficult.  I have had similar questions about leadership and when it’s time to leave in this post.

Dr. Dobson, I look forward to your continued investment in my family through your radio program.

Being Honest About My Marriage

YouTube has several versions of this song, but when I hear it I’m reminded of the commitment I have made as a husband.  I suggest you watch/listen to one of them before reading this post.

Clint Black/Lisa Hartman \”When I Said I Do\”

Can I be completely honest with you about my marriage?

Cheryl and I both are in our second marriage. Most people in our church know this, because I have shared it numerous times. If you don’t know, listen to the podcasts. I certainly don’t share it every week. If it bothers you for me to be a pastor there’s not much I can do about it now and I will not try to convince you I should be one. I know my calling.  I also know that my story is my story and I can’t change it. The purpose of this post is not to defend my qualifications. I know what happened in my situation and where I stand with God. His grace has been more than sufficient in my life and I wouldn’t be who I am today apart from the experiences of my life, good and bad.

All that said, one of the greatest miracles I have known is how God brought Cheryl into my life. Each of us having been deeply wounded by our past, probably never expected life to be so good again. As a single man, so many people attempted to “hook me up” with females, and while I was fully interested, (I know a pretty girl when I see one) I never sensed God allowing me to date. At one point I began praying that God would bring someone into my life again. An aunt of mine had called about 6 months earlier with Cheryl’s name. I wrote it down at the time, laid it on my desk with the other “suggestions” and waited for God to release me. After a season of asking God daily, one day I sensed Him saying, “It’s time”.

Top on my “stack” of suggestions, and the one I had prayed about most frequently, was Cheryl. After a little private background search (seriously) I called Cheryl and asked her to lunch that week. That weekend we went to a movie and dinner. (I asked her if I could kiss her goodnight.) I never dated anyone else. After a year and half dating, we married.

I never imagined how well God could complete me, especially in my ministry role. Cheryl is the perfect pastor’s wife. She is sweet, kind, intelligent, giving, and loyal. She’s my best friend. Her unconditional respect for me (Which is all men’s greatest need by the way) astounds me, knowing the person I am sometimes.

Lately life has been full of stress for both of us. The church is growing faster than we could have imagined. I am always doing more than I should. Sometimes it seems I never have enough time in my day. I work at least 6 days a week, many weeks 7 days. Cheryl is equally busy. She is a professional accountant. She is a conscientious employee and goes beyond the call of duty in her work. In addition, the demands as a pastor’s wife are overwhelming at times. On top of all that, we, of course, want and need family time with each other and our two boys. Frankly, a lot of people expect us to be everywhere. (I took some time over the past week to plan some getaways for this year, including this next weekend, because we need it!) Our relationship gets stretched as with every married couple.

Every week I watch marriages fall apart. I understand, more than most pastors, the pain of divorce. When God says, “I hate divorce”, I believe I know His heart. I am so thankful for a wife as committed to us as a couple as Cheryl is. I want you to know Cheryl, that whatever it takes, I’m in this for the long haul.

I love you sweetheart. When I said I do, I meant I will. Forever.

Can’t wait for this weekend together!

If I Had A Daughter…


Most people who know me well know I would have loved having a daughter. I have two of the greatest sons any father could ask for and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone, but there’s a part of me that envies the dads of daughters I know. As much as I think it would scare me to have one (I think I’d probably make them cry daily not meaning to), I often wish I did. It makes me really hope that someday I will have two special daughter-in-laws (I have my eye on one already. No pressure!) and granddaughters. I plan to spoil them greatly!

If I did have daughters, along with teaching them the Scriptures, I think I would have them listen to Kellie Pickler’s song “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” and read Angela Thomas’ book, “Do You Think I’m Beautiful”, as they were old enough to understand. My goal would be to show them their own self worth, that they are beautiful not only for their outer appearance, but for the person God had created them to be.

I would strive to let them see that no man can completely fill the deep need of their heart for love. As wonderful as a man may try to be, he can never emotionally complete the heart of a woman. Only Christ’s love can meet that need fully, completely, and continually.

I would, however, try to convince them that their dad unconditionally loved them.

And I would keep my shotgun loaded!