She Makes This Stuff Look Easy

As seen on JenJonesDirect.com

My wife makes this stuff look easy.

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I took a solo run at the parenting helm this past week. My wife was out of town at a conference, which meant I was left to manage the domestic ship all by my lonesome. And I’ve got to say, three days in: My wife makes this stuff look easy.

I sent her off with a hug, a kiss and a reassuring look, desperately trying to convince her that all would be well. It dawned on me about 30 minutes in that I had failed to gather all the fine points of detail on the nuanced balancing act that is my kids’ daily calendars. Before she even hit the airport, I was texting my request for full play-by-play to be remitted to me via email. She of course knew every practice and play date off the top of her head and had the deets to my inbox before she hit the security x-ray. She makes this stuff look easy.

Kids_smallcarI did my best, mind you. I think I’m a pretty good dad. I’m invested. I love my kids. I show up for all the big moments. I sit down with homework most nights. I cook on occasion. But managing all my responsibilities—and her’s when she’s away—is a task I tend to butcher, if I’m being honest. I’m a decent version of Dad; I’m a horrible substitute for Mom. Because she makes this stuff look easy.

Things ran long for me at work yesterday. That means I arrived at school pick-up in the wrong car, and had to cram four kids in a space meant for three. Torqueing and teetering under the pressure, I toggled a laser focus between my profession and my progeny—only to discover I was less than sharp at either. Jen does the same multi-tasking thing too. Only she makes this stuff look easy.

SeaWorldI’m just not as good as her in so many things. Just ask my kids. They’ll confirm my below average marks. I don’t pack lunches very well. I’m terrible at making the bed. I try my best to be patient, but the cacophony in the car sometimes causes me to blow my stack. I want the house to remain clean. I just seem incapable of making it so in quite so lovely a way as Jen. Candidly, I barely make it out of the house having showered, and I don’t even have to comb my hair. She does all that and more, and looks gorgeous doing it. I’m telling you… she makes this stuff look easy.

Today, I took the day off work and invited my kids to SeaWorld. I figured I’d focus all my attention on the four most important little feet walking the planet. And I did. That is until I had some kind of strange allergic reaction somewhere between the sharks and the shell fish exhibit. My eye became so swollen it nearly closed for business entirely. And as I stood there in line for the roller coaster, digging through the backpack for time sensitive snacks and attempting to deftly settle the arguments of who would board which amusement ride first… As I tried to snap pictures for posterity, encourage little anxieties and squint through a swole-shut eye lid, I thought to myself something I should have emblazoned on my next t-shirt: My wife makes this stuff look easy.

Here’s to you, moms. Thanks for all you do to make the world go ‘round—and for making it look as easy as you do.

Parenting At the Speed of Life

An excerpt from the "Nut House: Parenting In Sanity" series

Family life can get a little crazy. Any parent can tell you that. In fact, if you’re a mom or a dad and you haven’t considered checking yourself into the Nut House on an occasion or two, you simply haven’t been in long enough.

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Maybe you’re like me: you’re doing the best you can, but the crazy stress of raising littles just keeps showing up at the speed of life.

My kids are like yours. They’re growing up really fast. The clock is spinning quickly and I’m constantly grasping for strategies to stabilize my parenting. But the goal of parenting isn’t to help my kids grow up. They’ll do that whether I want them to or not. The goal is to help them mature before they grow up.

Ever met an adult who grew up but never matured? Maybe you married him. But our lives as parents are at their most influential when we help our children grow mature, solid lives.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise.”

Life’s moving fast. There’s no changing that. But if we can appreciate the brevity of our lives, and approach God for help, we can parent at the speed of life with wisdom.

Here’s five key steps we can take to build mature children before they grow up:

[1] SHOW THEM HOW TO PRIORITIZE OTHER PEOPLE.

Ask any two-year old what his or her favorite word is. Better yet, try to take little Johnny’s favorite toy. He will give it to you without asking. “MINE!”

Left to their own devices, children will grow up thinking the world revolves around them, rather than selflessly and joyfully revolving around others. Great parents awaken this essential perspective in their kids.

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

[2] TEACH THEM THE PRINCIPLES OF HARD WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY.

This one’s in short supply nowadays. Sometimes, parents—out of a misplaced sense of love and care—over-nurture their children to the point that they are ill-prepared to make their own way in the world. Save your kids the wounds of immaturity and teach them the principles of hard work and responsibility.

[3] LEAD THEM TO RELATIONSHIPS THEY CAN LOOK UP TO.

Your child will need more positive input in their life than just you. And smart parents lead their children to strategic, significant influences they can look up to. Great parents don’t assume their kids will pick it up by osmosis somewhere along the line. They don’t just cross their fingers and hope their kids choose good friends. Great parents inject themselves into those choices and lead their kids to life-giving relationships.

Who are you partnering with? Who’s coaching your kids in sports? What college young person is hanging out with your young person? What youth or children’s program is supporting you in parenting at the speed of life? Because as influential as you are as a parent, you need strategic partners to help grow your child into a mature person before they grow up.

[4] CHALLENGE THEM TO DECISIONS DRIVEN BY HIGH-CALIBER CHARACTER, NOT HIGH-OCTANE EMOTION.

We live in a society dominated by high-octane emotion. Entire industries are built around it. That’s why car dealerships even exist.

Only truly rare people make decisions driven by high-caliber character. What’s the right thing to do? What’s the wise thing to do? What’s honorable in this situation? It’s the step that asks, “What do I truly value—regardless of the sacrifice?” and makes decisions from there.

That kind of value system actually protects our kids from harm.

“May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.” (Psalm 25:21)

[5] MODEL THE VALUE OF GRACE AND GRATITUDE.

If you’re child never values grace, they’re doomed to be a judgmental, critical person. If they never embrace the value of gratitude, they will become an entitled brat. And you and I both know plenty of adults who grew into judgmental, critical brats without every maturing into something better.

Your kids don’t need everything they want in order to live a great life. In fact, if you could give them everything, you’d ruin them in the process. They need to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. But that if they will mature in the value of grace and gratitude, they can revolve around it with a profound joy that the world will marvel at and be drawn toward.

 

What do you think? Drop some knowledge on us with a comment.

 

Somebody Just Bullied My Baby

My oldest daughter, Addie, is an incredible person. At ten years old, she is sweet and kind and generous to others.

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She loves Disney® Channel, Reece’s Pieces® and is gaming a force to be reckoned with on Sonic Dash. For just over a decade now, she has enriched her dad with a life full of “ups,” in spite of being born with Down Syndrome.

But somebody just bullied my baby. Not sure who thought they had the right spitting in the apple of my eye. But somebody just bullied my baby.

Some brigand in a back room somewhere, lambasted my little lamb with sinister, scathing words: “You’re stupid and dumb,” they began, and moved on from there. “Retarded.” “Ugly.” You fill in the blanks. Hate-filled speech that’s vomited out on playgrounds the world over, no doubt. But this time, the bully came hunting my baby.

Addie had to spend one of her lunchtime recesses in the principal’s office this week—a direct result of slapping some sense into this one ignorant bully. Her aggressor did some time too, but this dad couldn’t just leave it there.

Yesterday, I picked up the kids from school with a swagger in my step. This was an episode that warranted a celebratory ice-cream cone in my book. Principals have their principles. I have mine.

As we drove to McDonalds® for a frosted award, I affirmed my 40-pound little girl for sticking up for herself in the face of a bully more than twice her size. I told her she was beautiful and lovely, that she was special and smart, that she was the most precious of gifts to her dear old dad and that hateful words would never change that.

I spoke to my other kids too. About the values we believe in as a Tribe. About how we stick together when things get tough, and that we never allow one of us to face a foe alone. It’s been a core value in my house since we first started hanging pictures in it. In fact, we’ve written them down and hung them on the wall for all to see. There are seven in all, but on this day, all I could see was number six: “Our Name.”

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In my anger, I blurted out a Facebook post with that pesky little app that’s always a thumb twitch away. I popped off a bit and should have chosen my moment a little better, but I stand by my hashtags: #jonestribevalues #youshouldseetheotherguy

We value our name because it communicates our belonging in just one word: Jones. I reminded my kids as we walked under “the arches” that, “we never forget who we belong to,” that we are, “always loving, protecting and enduring any hardship…together.” No matter how big the bully gets, we face injustice head-on…together.

“Never let one of you stand by yourself,” I exhorted them as we licked. “The bullies will cower when you are courageous together.”

This is at the core of who I am. When a bully rears his ugly head near my house, Joneses circle the wagons. We always love. We always protect. We endure any hardship…together.

Now, I know violence isn’t the answer to every snub. I’m not condoning brawling as an approach to relationship building. In spite of my impetuous post, I don’t believe we should retaliate against unkindness with more of the same. And I believe there are plenty of reasons—scary, abusive reasons—why bullies exist in the first place. But before you start tossing out the “What Would Jesus Do’s,” make sure your point of reference isn’t a WWJD caricature of the real guy.

Most people flip a phrase like that with a particular (I would argue, skewed) picture of Jesus in mind. He’s the meek and mild guy. You know: white dude with a beard, blue sash and sandals. He’s diminutive and retiring. He’s a washrag of a man.

But you should see the other guy. WWJDers seldom reference the Jesus of the temple courts: table-flipper, whip-wielder. They’re uncomfortable with the Jesus who stood for Truth when it was on the line, unafraid to crack a couple heads and take a few names. They don’t think of Jesus in the face of the Revelation bully—Faithful and True—the King from the back of the Book. He’s not petting ponies in the pasture. He rides white stallions. His eyes burn like fire. His mouth is the sharpest of swords. He’s the guy with the tattoo on His thigh, burnished with “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16)

Now I’m not discounting the meek and mild Jesus. He is kind, gentle—the epitome of grace. Thank God He is. But that kind of love has more than one face. And you should see the other guy in action too.

There’s coming a day when an altogether loftier sort of Father is going to finally draw a line in the sand. The Lord Almighty, seated on His throne, will arise from His rest and slap ignorant evil full in the face, one final time. That’s what Dad’s do when their baby gets bullied.

So the next time you get carried away with the caricature of a mealy-mouthed Jesus, petting ponies in the pasture, read the last chapter of the Word that He left us. Because #youshouldseetheotherguy. And never again, when you’ve held hands with Dad, will you ever have to stand alone against the bully. You belong to Him. The Savior always loves, always protects, always endures any hardship your enemy musters against you. And THAT is the value of His Tribe.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

The “I Do” Promises

Marriage can turn into a score-keeping battle of wins and losses. Like it or not, conflict happens in every relationship. It’s coming your way.

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And while it’s true that there’s no controlling whether conflict happens, you can control what you will do when it shows up. The Bible gives us some powerful principles that can heal a broken marriage. It gives us a roadmap that will keep a strong marriage strong, and make it stronger. They are a call to commitment—to promises. I refer to them as the “I Do” Promises. Try them on for size and see if they just might rehabilitate the most precious relationship in your life.

 1. I PROMISE TO BUILD AND NOT BREAK.

In conflict, there are war-tactics and there are peace-making tactics. Which you choose will determine whether you win or lose in the end. You can insist on winning the battle, but you’re going to lose the war. Here’s the delusion: we think by winning the little conflict, we’ll prevent ourselves from losing the herculean struggle. Often, we win the little hill and lose the mountain range.

Insist on coming out on top of daily arguments and you’ll forfeit the life-long objective of love. We have to make the promise to our spouse—to ourselves—that we will build and not break in our marriage.

2. I PROMISE TO FOCUS ON THE GOOD AND NOT THE BAD.

There’s a gap in every relationship. It’s the gap between what you expected was going to happen, and what actually happens: reality.

Some of you like it when your spouse screws up because you see your chance to be right. You love to believe the worst, just so you can win. But couples who stay in love for the long haul have made it a habit to assume the best about each other. They are generous in their assumptions.

…Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

This isn’t about deluding yourself that you married the perfect person. Of course you didn’t. But hey! They married an imperfect person too: YOU! You don’t have to pretend there’s nothing ever wrong in your relationship. Just choose to focus on the good instead.

3. I PROMISE TO TALK AND NOT WALK.

Communicate. Don’t evacuate. Focus on restoring the relationship. Don’t just walk off or run away.

If you get so angry that you shut down, stop talking and take off, you need to know you’re in dangerous territory. When you harbor resentment and refuse to reconcile, you are giving bitterness permission to wire your relationship with explosives and handing it the detonator. Promise to talk and not walk.

4. I PROMISE TO GIVE AND NOT TAKE.

Establish a “NO-BULLY-ZONE” in your marriage. We have them in schools. Why not put one in your house?

When you have conflict with your spouse, make sure neither of you ever leave the discussion feeling as though you’ve lost. Admit your own desire to be right and commit to never bullying your spouse into submission. Taking conflict to that level will destroy your relationship.

Love isn’t about pulling someone up to be where you are. It’s about climbing down off your high horse, descending beneath your loved one and lifting them above you. Love is about believing, not belittling. It’s about giving not taking.

Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails!

I Corinthians 13:4-8 (CEV)

You have a choice today: You can fight to win… and lose. Or you can choose to fight right… and win. Pour grace on your spouse. Extend forgiveness. Give of yourself. The “I Do” Promises will rehabilitate what is broken. They will reconcile your relationship. They have the power to rebuild your love.

 

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Lessons From a Nudist Colony

I grew up in a great home, the oldest of three Jones boys. My dad was a pastor, my mom a school teacher. We didn’t have much in the early years, but I never knew the difference. We had enough. Our needs were met. Our relationships were rich. We had each other.

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My father’s life loomed large in our home and I looked up to him in more ways than one. I suppose that’s normal for a young boy to idolize his dad. I loved mom, of course, but dad…he was something. In my case, Pop represented the epitome of strength and boldness. He was the definition of what I thought it meant to be man. He was a leader who modeled integrity. He was a Christian who walked with God. He was the guy who showed me how to shoot a gun and use a pocket knife and clean a fish—you know, all the important stuff. And he impressed something very deep in me, that I’ve never forgotten. I’ll show you what I mean.

One year, when I was a teenager, we were invited as a family to attend a canoeing trip on the Russian River in California. We were so excited. We donned our helmets and paddling gear and set off down the sleepy stream. One canoe was too small of course, to fit all five of our tribe. I may be the oldest, but both my brothers have me beat in the height and weight department, so we split up. Being the oldest, I captained one vessel, while my dad skippered the other of this rickety craft. My mom, not a particularly strong swimmer, rode with me. But that was going to change.

We’d been given some instructions from the canoe company about which fork of the river to follow. Clearly, we missed something, because what we came upon next was nowhere on our map. As we rounded the bend, suddenly the serene landscape changed. The sense of quiet isolation on a gentle river went right out the door. We had paddled right into the wild whirlpool of a Nudist Colony.

Naked people were everywhere: on inner tubes, on lounge chairs, on picnic tables. (There’s something deeply disturbing about naked guys eating fried chicken, by the way.) They were playing volleyball. The were flinging Frisbees. And just in case you’d missed all that, colonist after colonist were somersaulting into the river from the forty-foot rope swing strategically positioned to broadcast the camp’s location. And every one of them were naked a picked birds.

My mother is a very modest person and she was instantly mortified. My dad immediately came to her aid. “Mom’s going to ride with me from here, boys” he directed. We paddled together quickly and my mother disembarked for Dad’s boat, just in time for our first meet and greet. Looking back, the sight of this teenage boy’s jaw hitting the canoe floor must have been pretty funny. I’d never seen anything like this before. And it wasn’t long before the first dude in his birthday suit came floating out to us.

“Hello!” he called to my dad. I know he was talking to my dad, because my mom had her face in her hands. “Hello! Just passing through,” my dad replied, as he attempted to paddle past the man and his air mattress. (Candidly, there’s no classy way for a naked guy to float on an inner tube.)

“Well, hey man,” said the floater, “How about if I swim over there and get in your boat? I can float with you guys for a while.”

My mother was horrified, and honestly a little panicky. Why would this strange man from this strange place want to do such a strange thing? Mix that with a dose of terror from the thought of being spilled into the river and having to swim for her life. Instantly, came my father’s reply.

“How about I part your hair with this boat paddle?” he threatened. “Nobody’s gonna be gettin’ in my boat today.” And with that we darted past the bewildered man, who looked like somebody had just prematurely blown out his birthday candles.

When we got back into calmer, less naked water I popped the question. “Dad, what was that guy thinking? And what would you have done if he would have tried to climb in the boat with you and mom?”

He paused for a moment as though gathering his thoughts for this salient teaching moment with his three sons. He said, “Boys, nothing in all my life is more important than your mother. And taking care of her is my number one job. I meant what I said to that guy. The possibility of him not only embarrassing Mom, but flipping us both right out in the river was very good. And I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

It wasn’t bravado. I had every confidence that guy would have been wearing a boat paddle where his ball cap should have gone. My dad went on to challenge us that when we had a family of our own, the responsibility would fall to us. The truth is, as fathers, we can’t always control what’s around the river bend. We can’t promise that a freak on a flotation device won’t come looking to invade our space. We certainly can’t control the fact that we live in a chaotic world, filled with people and behaviors that are going to sully our scenic waterway from time to time. What we can control is whether we let it get in the boat.

I thought my father was hilarious then, and I think it’s hilarious now. But beyond the humor of my mom getting splashed by that rope swing, lies the sober reminder of one dad to another. Always take up the standard to be bold on behalf of your family. If you don’t, who will? And the next time you see Crazy floating down the river toward you, get a good grip on that boat paddle. You may need to thump a knot on somebody’s head. That’s what a good dad is prepared to do.

Don’t Forget Who You Belong To

When I became a father, I started doing something that my dad always did. Isn’t it funny how that happens? You end up turning into the Old Man at some point. But in this case, it wasn’t an accident. I did it intentionally.

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Every time one of my kids leaves for school, or heads to a friend’s house, or leaves my presence for any extended period at all, I pull them aside, grab their little face in my hands and remind them of something. I’ll whisper, “Don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

My dad used to remind me of the same thing when I was a kid. It was as predictable as the sun coming up. Every time I’d head out somewhere, he’d always remind me, “Don’t forget who you belong to.”

It made an enormous impact on me, obviously. (Because now I’m inflicting it on my kids.) But it would be difficult for me to over-state how significant the expression of love, care, responsibility and value of the family name was conveyed in that simple phrase. Even as a small boy, I would finish my dad’s sentence. And you know what happened when I became a man? I remembered.

Now, with my kids, I find myself wanting to communicate the same thing. I’m intentionally trying to express how much I love them and how much I care for them. I’m also being careful to inculcate in them the value of being a responsible person—to remind them that their name means something. I want to steep them in the notion that integrity is a precious commodity, and a scarce one at that. “You belong to Jesus, and to me,” reminds them both of their eternal value to God and of their earthly significance to Dear Ol’ Dad. I tell them this because I want them to know that they BELONG—and nothing could ever change that fact—for Jesus or for me.

I dropped Brody, my six-year-old son, off at school the other day. I did what I always do. I got down on my knees, grabbed his little face in my hands and said, “Brody, don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

And you know what he did? A little grin creased across his lips and he quickly grabbed my face with his little hands and replied, “Don’t forget who YOU belong to, Dad.” And with that he wheeled and went into class.

If you don’t think you’re being watched by your kids, think again. Every little action and encouragement, every voice inflection, every look, it’s all being imprinted on the hearts and minds of the little people that follow you around. Be careful what you’re writing with your words and actions. They’ll quote it back to you someday, one way or the other. Make sure the chapters you’re recording are worth reading by the little boys or girls under your care.

One of these days, they’re going to grow up. And they’re going to start writing their own pages and modeling what really matters to your grandchildren. And the loudest voice they’ll hear ringing in their ear—for good or for bad—will be yours.

If you’ve never done it, give it a try. Get down on your knees in the next little bit, grab a pint-sized face in your hands and with all the love and care you have in your heart, tell that boy or that girl: “Don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

They’ll thank you for it some day.

REACT: What expression of love has made the most significant impact on you? Leave a comment below.

Look to Dad

I walked up a long flight of stairs this morning. It took me a while to make it to the top, but I enjoyed every step. Because, you see, this morning I held hands with one of my favorite people all the way: Addison Grace.

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At age nine, Addie is my oldest daughter. She’s a little under four feet tall, but her personality’s as big as all out doors. She loves reading and tether ball and anything silly. She never meets a stranger and has a heart softer than any I’ve ever known. Addison was born with Down Syndrome and without equivocation, she’s the apple of her daddy’s eye.

This morning, I marched next to my little soldier into a challenging environment. A couple weeks ago we moved to a new house in the center of San Diego. We enrolled the kids in a new school too—one right down the street. But leaving the comfort and security of our previous place brought lots of additional challenges to the little ones. And Addie has struggled the most.

Different can be difficult, can’t it? Being the new blonde in the barrio is no walk in the park either. And Addie has wrestled this new transition in her own forty-five inch way. Dad was along this day to observe her new classroom, her new teacher, her new aid and her new friends. He was marching alongside to survey the land and underscore the truth that “Dad has your back!”

I watched as my diminutive darling jumped into her work, pushing her little glasses back on to her nose over and over. Biting her lip to scrawl out her spelling words, she would turn toward me after each one to see if I was still watching.

“I did it, Dad!” she would say. “You’re doing great, babe,” I would reply. And the entire time, I never missed a thing. I was standing just close enough to show my smile, a thumbs-up of encouragement and a wink of warmth as I watched in rapt attention.

Addie was working with her aide most of the morning. Between you and me, I’m not sure this lady’s going to work out. She’s gruff and preoccupied. She’s disinterested in Addie and Addie can tell. She exudes an attitude of distain and this dad takes a dim view of it. Within five minutes, the aide seemed as though she had somewhere more important to be. And Dad never missed a thing.

But over and over, as my daughter completed each direction, she would glance toward her dad for approval. And over and over, Dad delivered. Addie looked to her dad for support because she was sure—no matter how unpredictable her surroundings—that you can bet the rent money on Dad. Even if a soft look from others might be rare, she knows Dad loves and never stops loving.

A simple smile from Dad was enough for Addie today. All she really needs in all this world is the knowledge that her father waits in rapt attention of her every need. She can sigh in relief, in spite of the chaos all around her, because she knows Dad has her back.

It struck me, as I stood over that little desk this morning: I’m exactly the same way. Sometimes life throws enormous challenges into my path. Transitions are often very tough. And different can be difficult.

But no matter what my day holds, I have a Father prepared to patiently walk up the long flight of stairs with me. He marches beside me into the fray. And He is unafraid.

You may face disappointment or disdain, but your Dad takes a dim view of it in your defense. Glance toward the warmth of Who He is. He stands close to you, waiting in rapt attention of your need. And He never misses a thing. His faithfulness never subsides.

Life has thrown Addie some challenges. But the same dad that walked her up Stair Mountain this morning, walked her right back down in due time. Your Dad will do the same for you if you’ll only grab His hand.

Did you catch that wink? No matter what, you can be confident of this: Dad loves and He never stops loving. That is an enduring, eternal, unalterable fact. And you can bet the rent money on it.