Parenting

Taming the Tongue: Parents and Youth Sports

L SoccerHer soccer coach calls her “Big Foot.” She’s probably the smallest player on the team, but don’t tell her. Our youngest daughter has made it her goal in life to ignore her own size and play like the big kids (a.k.a. her older siblings). As a result, she has a “go big or go home” attitude on the field. On a few occasions that has resulted in scoring as many as six goals in a single game. It has also led to at least a couple confrontations on the field from opposing coaches for her unorthodox tactics (hey, the ref never blew a whistle). But most of all, it displays a zeal for the game and pure joy in doing what she loves.

With kids’ sports, especially when they are young, problems don’t generally come from the kids. Sure there might be a foul here or a trip there, but the little ones are in it for the fun. The problems are usually generated by parents, and I have been part of the problem.

In a move to curb some of the problems created by parents at soccer games, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association is calling for a “Silent September” this fall. CNN reports:

Heckling referees is practically a tradition in any sport, but South Carolina youth soccer officials feel it’s gone too far. Come September, they’re instituting a new rule: “No cheering, no jeering.” Overeager parents will get two warnings. If they don’t pipe down the third time, they’ll be kicked out. The state’s Youth Soccer Association is calling this code of conduct “Silent September.” And it’s cracking down after problems with parents who are verbally, and even physically, aggressive toward referees—some of whom are still kids themselves.[1]

As we signed up a couple of our children for fall soccer over the weekend, I was hit with a twinge of conviction. How do I conduct myself at the games? I am admittedly a very competitive person whose days of playing sports at any level are basically over. I love watching my children play, but I have raised my voice in criticism of officials far too many times. I have thrown my hands up in the air as if the integrity of the game was at risk due to one inconsequential call. I have even tried to shout instructions to my kids from the stands when I am not the coach.

With this next season of sports coming quickly, I want to redouble my efforts to be a supportive, positive parent at the games. Thankfully the Bible has much to say about the use of our tongues—if only we will take it to heart. These admonitions clearly apply to the way we should conduct ourselves at children’s sporting events.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3: 5-10)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

I want to be a parent who encourages, edifies, and inspires with my words. I don’t want to be “that parent” at the game who yells at the officials and demands perfection from everyone at a child’s game. These children are not professionals, nor are the officials. May we as parents not ruin the sport by our words.

Before the start of every game, I hope to join King David in his prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

[1] Nancy Coleman, “‘No cheering, no jeering’: South Carolina tells overzealous parents at soccer games to zip it,” CNN.com, 7 July 2017.

A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting

book_cover_everyday_parentingMelanie and I were asked to contribute a chapter to a recently-released book entitled, Everyday Parenting. While we still have much to learn in the realm of parenting, we are hopeful that our chapter, “A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting” will be helpful. Below is an excerpt from our chapter. You can purchase the book from Seminary Hill Press.

The word “parenting” brings to mind many words that could be paired alongside it. Wonderful. Exciting. Exhausting. Loving. Frustrating. Joyous. Sweet. Stinky. Gracious. Sacrificial. Heartbreaking. Precious. Blessing. But the one word that has proven to be the overarching theme throughout our parenting adventure is “humbling.”

We do not necessarily mean individual incidents that prove to humble a prideful soul—although plenty of those exist. For example, when your young child throws a gallon of milk out of the cart, and it explodes all over the frozen food section with the force of an atomic bomb.  Or when your teenage daughter chooses the middle of a clothing store as the best place to loudly discuss the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt. These are humbling situations where you hope the floor will open up and swallow both you and your child and transport you quickly back to the privacy of your own home.

Those situations are real, but they are not the extent of parenting as a whole. The humbling experience we refer to is the constant act of dying to yourself and your personal comforts for the sake and well-being of your children. Thus, parenting is one of the most humbling experiences a person can have.

In every stage of rearing a child, the Lord must work on the heart, mind, and soul of both parents to continue to place them in the position where they can effectively guide their child. We have been on this journey for more than twelve years now, and while there is still much opportunity for successes and mistakes, we have noticed one common thread. The daily act of caring for someone else causes great friction in a heart that primarily wants to tend to its own needs. The friction causes a hard, self-sufficient heart to soften and become moldable, allowing God to work greatly in the life of that parent. With God’s tender leading, the parents die to their own selfish tendencies, see their child’s needs, and reach out to connect to their child in whatever way is necessary.

In light of dying to our own desires and recognizing the needs of our children, we periodically sit down to consider our goals for the four children whom God has entrusted to us. We have a number of goals along the lines of education, physical activity, and spiritual development. Those goals change over time as our children grow older, but the main focus of those goals remains to see our children grow into responsible, productive members of society who know the truth of the gospel and follow after Christ with all their hearts.

The one constant in our parenting strategy is that we would be guided by the principles and promises of Scripture. You could call this “text-driven parenting” in the sense that we want our parenting to be the product of our study of Scripture. We lay no claim to being experts in parenting since our journey as parents is still in-process. However, we want to offer some basic biblical principles that can serve as a philosophy of parenting. In so doing, we want to look at the effects of parenting on both children and parents. Seeing the effects on children may seem obvious, but the effects of parenting on the parents less so. Yet, our conviction is that parents are both humbled and changed in the process of parenting according to God’s Word.

*Everyday Parenting is available from Seminary Hill Press here.

Theological Matters: The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

LenowTXRangerThis post originally appeared at Theological Matters on May 2. You can read the full post here.

Last month, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. . . .

*Read the rest of the post here.

Guest Post: The Heart of an Anxious Mom in the Hand of a Sovereign God

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here and was re-printed in Baptist Press here.

I was sitting on the conveyor belt in the baggage claim area of the Jackson International airport when the tornadoes came through Jackson, MS. The airport staff had directed us to take shelter there until the storms passed. I had already heard of the casualties in Arkansas, children who lost parents, parents who lost babies.

My own mother was on the road somewhere in the storm trying to get home. As I sat there in the darkness, the familiar emotions of fear and worry consumed me.  Immediately, though, I also felt God’s presence and reassurance that, “I am with you and will never leave you. I love you and the people you love and I have a perfect plan for each of your lives.”

There is something you must understand, though. This is not the first time the emotions of anxiety and worry have swept over me almost causing me to lose my breath. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even the thousandth time. God’s sweet voice of reassurance is a tune I have come to know and claim as truth in my life. I struggled with fear and worry some as a child, much like other kids my age. I was scared of the house catching fire or snakes being in my bed.

However, it was not until I became a mother myself that I sat down at the banquet of anxiety.

Once I saw the positive pregnancy test, I instantly felt responsible for a life other than my own. After our first daughter was born, fear would overwhelm me as I was giving her a bath or rocking her in my arms. Some days I would only nibble at the banquet, knowing that most of my fears were irrational. However, other days I allowed myself to fully take in the diet of worry. On those days, my joy was lost. My thoughts of what “could” happen tumbled out of control if I was not careful. The Lord blessed us with more children, and with each one, the feeling of fear and anxiety continued like old, worn jeans that you know you should throw out, but keep around for comfort sake.

“What if I wasn’t paying attention and something happened to them?”

“What if I didn’t feed them the right things?”

“What if I didn’t do the right things to protect them?”

“What if we didn’t have the right toys/equipment/safety devices for them?”

At some point in time, all of these questions haunted me. However, I began to realize that all of my concerns had one common focus. Me.

The more I focused on myself and my abilities, the more I saw my shortcomings and faults. However, when I took my eyes off of myself and placed them on an almighty, powerful God, I began to see how the God who tends to the lilies can be trusted with all of my concerns.  As my children grew, the Lord began to teach me magnificent truths that took me away from the banquet of anxiety and led me to the true Bread of Life where I can feast on His goodness.

God used 2 Timothy 1:7 many times to speak truth into my heart: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It is not God’s plan for us to consider ourselves crazy because we have irrational thoughts of worry. He has given us a sound mind. That means I can trust him as He leads me to make the right decisions throughout the day. If I am in a close walk with Him, He will guide my path and give me a sound mind.

In my life, the antidote to fear and worry has always been a deeper understanding and appreciation of the sovereignty of God.

For example, I cannot keep my children safe 100% of the time, but I know God loves them even more than I do and whatever He chooses to allow in their lives is for the purpose of His glory. In the same manner, I trust God for clarity of mind so that I can make the best decisions for my family that I can make. I forget things. I accidentally overlook things, but by the grace of God, His sovereignty more than makes up for my faults.

I praise God that he has taught me to recognize fear, worry, and anxiety in my life, not as mental issues, but as trust issues. The more I trust in the precious sovereignty of God, the more I am at peace with whatever He brings my way.

Guest Post: 5 Family Benefits of Children’s Sports

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedThis is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

We’ve all seen the reality shows of girls on hyper competitive dance squads or young boys playing tackle football with the intensity of a college game day. We’ve heard the warnings of strained muscles from over-use and understand the consequences of an over-scheduled childhood.

When it comes time to plan fall activities for my children, I find myself seeking for God-given wisdom.

I don’t want to become my own version of a crazed, sports parent, but I can definitely see the benefit of childhood sports in the life of my family. Our children are signed up for various team sports and I know my fall schedule looks much like so many other moms – driving from one practice to another, filling up water bottle after water bottle, and washing jerseys at the midnight hour.

My kids aren’t the stars, and who knows if they will get college scholarships, but for this stage in our lives, sports are a blessing to our family. Here’s why:

  1. They Promote Family Activity. One of my daughters runs cross-country for her school. She needs to practice on the weekend by running, so we all get out and go to the track with her. During my son’s soccer practice, it is easy to bring an extra ball to kick around with the other kids. We try to use practices and lessons to promote activity for all of us.
  2. They Promote Family Unity and Sportsmanship. Unless there is a scheduling conflict, all six of us go to every game or race and we do our best to pay attention (i.e. very limited electronics). We all learn how to cheer for and encourage each other. My youngest caught on to this very quickly. This is her first season to play soccer and, after many seasons of cheering on her siblings, the thing she is most looking forward to is “the sisters and bubba screaming and cheering my name.” All children benefit from being cheered for and being a cheerleader for someone else.
  3. They Promote Positive Friendships. Friendships develop quickly when there is a common goal. A sports team can immediately give a connection point with a new friend. Many times, the only thing I have in common with another mom is that our kids play on the same team, but even that has opened the door to some great relationships. Of course, a parent has to use the same caution in handling friends on teams as they do with friends at school. However, the ability to quickly connect with various families in the community is a blessing of organized sports.
  4. They Promote Hard Work. Practicing is hard. Working as a team is hard. Learning new skills is hard. However, the lesson is when you work hard, the task gets easier and the benefits increase. My second daughter swam on a city swim team this summer. She was not the best on the team, but she worked very hard at learning her strokes and understanding the details of racing. I took the opportunity to record her times to show her how she was improving greatly. She learned the lesson that hard work pays off, even if no one can see it.
  5. They Promote a Deeper Relationship Between Parent and Child. There are sports that, quite frankly, I knew nothing about until one of my kids showed an interest in it or an opportunity arose for them to play. So I quickly tried to learn as we went and do the best I could to understand that little part of their world. The times we practice together, whether kicking a soccer ball or hitting a volleyball back and forth, are times that I hope my children remember their parents investing time into their life.

Childhood sports do have the potential to be life-consuming and competition-driven. However, if you take a more moderate approach, you can see the great opportunities you have as a parent when your child plays. With much prayer and God-given wisdom, you can benefit greatly from sports and it can be a blessing in the life of your family. Take time this fall, in the business of a full schedule, to notice and reflect on the different opportunities God may give you through your child’s sports.

Guest Post: Three Ways to Help Your Children Embrace Humility

Lenow Family 2015This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10)

In about the last twenty years, the job of parenting has expanded to include a concern for our children’s self-esteem and self-image. Consequently, we find ourselves in a culture of children and young adults who struggle with the opposite end of the spectrum, self-inflation.

In his book, The Collapse of Parenting, Dr. Leonard Sax explains, “A culture of self-esteem leads to a culture of resentment. If I am so wonderful, but my talents are not recognized and I’m still nobody at age 25 . . . then, I may feel envious and resentful of those who are more successful than me.” In comparison, “The culture of humility leads to gratitude, appreciation, and contentment.”

At face value, it is a noble desire to want your children to have a positive self-image. However, oftentimes, we confuse confidence with high self-esteem and cowardice with humility. The difference between those lies in the source. The source of self-esteem and an inflated self-image is the person: “I’m a good person, I’m awesome, I’m very talented, I have these accomplishments.”

In contrast, the source of a confident humility lies in God who created and the blessings thereof. It might sound like this, “God has gifted me in this way, so I will work hard to glorify Him.” Or “God has called me to this task, I know He will give me the strength to see it through.” The confidence is not in us, but in God. This is the sign of a true and right self-image.

So how do you teach your children real humility? I believe it comes from making sure they understand three essential truths:

  1. A right understanding of who they are. We are all sinners, saved by grace. Even on our very best days, we need God’s guidance and mercy on our lives. It will serve our children well to remind them of that. Whatever talents or gifts any of us have are to be used to edify and encourage others in the Lord. If the world happens to take note of an achievement, we must train our children to understand that it is God’s handiwork that they see. In the same vein, we must teach them that, once they accept Christ, they are already accepted fully by Christ (Eph 1:6). There is no need to work ourselves into a harried stupor trying to earn God’s favor. He has already bestowed upon us his love because we are His, not because of something that we have done or can do.
  1. A right understanding of other people. Continually throughout the book of 1 John, we see the need and importance of loving each other. Again, this charge to love is not rooted in the fact that we are great people. It is rooted in the fact that Christ loved us and laid down his life for us. We should, in turn, do the same for others (1 Jn 3:16). We have to understand and teach our children how God places other people in our lives for the purpose of encouraging each other in the Lord. Even if another person is not a believer, God can use that relationship to grow and strengthen us. Other people are not to be manipulated or used for personal gain of any kind, for that would be cheapening their worth and influence. A great way to show others that you care about them is to genuinely be interested in their part of the conversation. Dr. Sax mentioned this as a true sign of humility: being able to be truly interested in the lives of others. Ask questions. Listen to their stories. Oftentimes, we are so busy thinking of what we want to say, that we miss the opportunity to love through our conversation. True humility cares about others and loves them well.
  1. A right understanding of God and His purposes. There is only one God and it is not me or you or our children. The most loving thing we can teach our children is a proper view and respect of the One True God. Culture tells children that they can do anything, but we, as parents, must show them the beauty of acknowledging and embracing the boundaries that God has lovingly placed before us. We trust Him, not as a last resort, but as a daily sacrifice to God, an act of humbleness before our Maker, the Creator and Lover of our souls. True humility is one of the most counter-cultural traits we can instill in our children. However, it is the key to fully experiencing the joy of living in Christ.

Other practical habits might include household chores and decreased involvement in social media. These things work to promote confident humility and deemphasize the emphasis on self.

The concept of a healthy and proper self-image, one that is grounded in who they are in Christ and how they can bless others, is a true gift we can impart on our children and the next generation.

Of Parental Rights: My Letter to Fort Worth Independent School District Board Members

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Cowtown, Texas (a.k.a. Fort Worth) is generally a fairly quiet place to live. For nearly a decade, I have called this place home. Three of my four children are native-born Texans. While every city has its warts, I have thoroughly enjoyed the slow-paced, down-to-earth culture of the place where the West begins.

However, in recent days there have been developments within our little slice of Texan paradise that have made me wonder if I am living in New York, Los Angeles, or (gasp) Dallas. Just last week news headlines started appearing that the Fort Worth Independent School District had enacted new guidelines regarding transgender students and bathroom/locker room use. Such guidelines never appeared on a FWISD meeting agenda, nor did the school board seek public comment. The new guidelines seem to be the work of Superintendent Kent Scribner. Yesterday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick called on Superintendent Scribner to resign.

The gist of the guidelines follow the same pattern that Target has recently touted in its bathroom policies. There are also provisions related to private bathroom facilities, athletic teams, and school counselors. In essence, FWISD schools are now to allow students to use whichever restroom matches the gender with which they currently identify. Students may play on athletic teams of the gender with which they identify unless that sport is regulated by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which states that student athletes can only play on gender-specific teams according to the gender listed on the student’s birth certificate.

There is also a significant statement in the section entitled “Privacy and Confidentiality.” In this section, the guidelines read:

All students have a right to privacy. This includes keeping a student’s actual or perceived gender identity and expression private. School personnel may only share this information on a need-to-know basis or as the student directs. This includes sharing information with the student’s parent or guardian. When contacting the parent or guardian of a transgender student, school personnel must use the student’s legal name and the pronoun corresponding to the student’s gender assigned at birth unless the student, parent, or guardian has specified otherwise.

Since the FWISD school board meets again tonight, I have sent the following letter to my specific board representative as well as the board president, first vice president, and second vice president. Even though there are many different approaches for addressing an issue like this, I have focused on the parental rights angle. I hope you find this letter helpful.

Dear School Board Member (specific names used in actual letters):

As a resident in FWISD District 6 and a parent of 4 children, I am greatly troubled by the new transgender student guidelines. Without any opportunity for public comment nor any opportunity for constituents to contact their school board members, FWISD has enacted politically-motivated, controversial, and potentially damaging policies. Of particular concern is the section of the guidelines that notes the following:

“All students have a right to privacy. This includes keeping a student’s actual or perceived gender identity and expression private. School personnel may only share this information on a need-to-know basis or as the student directs. This includes sharing information with the student’s parent or guardian.”

I have four school-age children. Their well-being and livelihood is the responsibility of my wife and myself. No government agency, school employee, or educator has the right to usurp my authority as a parent. Parents should always be informed of issues that happen at school. The school should never intentionally withhold information from parents. This is government overreach at a most egregious level.

For this reason, I respectfully ask you to call for the school board to rescind these new guidelines immediately. At the very least, the entire school board should suspend the guidelines, take up this issue with great caution, and receive input from the constituents whom they represent. Action like this on the part of the school board contributes to a culture of distrust for the school board on the part of Fort Worth’s residents.

Thank you for your time and service to our community. If you would like to discuss this further, my contact information is listed below.

Evan Lenow, Ph.D.
(Contact information included in original letters)
If you would like to contact members of the FWISD school board, their names and emails are listed below. Remember to keep it succinct, direct, and respectful.
Jacinto “Cinto” Ramos, Jr. – jacinto.ramos@fwisd.org

Tobi Jackson – tobi.jackson@fwisd.org
Christene Chadwick Moss – christene.moss@fwisd.org
Theophlous Aron Sims, Sr. – ta.sims@fwisd.org
Judy Needham – judy.needham@fwisd.org
Ann Sutherland – ann.sutherland@fwisd.org
Norman Robbins – norman.robbins@fwisd.org
Matthew Avila – matthew.avila@fwisd.org
Ashley Paz – ashley.paz@fwisd.org

To find your specific board member, a map is available here and the list of board members by district is located here.

A copy of the new guidelines can be found at the end of this news story.