Children, Encouragement, History, Parents

The Effects of Love

Harry Harlow, ever heard of him? He was a psychologist who studied the nature of human love and affection by using monkeys. His experiments were labeled controversial and any attempt to measure and quantify the need for love and affection during the behaviorist movement of the 1950’s and 60’s was, supposedly, not science. * 

It was a time when many psychologists thought showing affection and love to children had no real purpose and might even be considered dangerous. But Harlow set out to prove the powerful effects of love as well as the absence of love.

How did he do it? His most famous experiment involved a mother monkey made of wire and another made of soft terrycloth. Infant monkeys, raised by these two surrogate “mothers,” had the wire mother provide needed food while the soft, terrycloth mother provided no nourishment. The result? The infant monkeys went to the wire mother for food, but preferred to spend their time with the soft, comforting mother when not eating. Harlow concluded that the need for affection was instrumental to the need for closeness and security.

This important and rather cruel research provided significant changes to how orphanages, adoption agencies and child care providers cared for children and their needs. What a powerful study on the nature of love, affection and nurture for the human spirit. We can endure a lot, but apparently we cannot endure the lack of love, of meaningful touch, affection and the security that touches the human soul. 

Who do you need to love today? Who needs your warm touch? 

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

*www.Verywell mind.com, Harry Harlow and the Nature of Affection, by Kendra Cherry, December 12, 20

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

Being a Dad and a Mom and Taking Advantage of a Long Weekend

My wife and I loved watching our kids grow up. We didn’t experience the “terrible two’s,” but rather chose to enjoy the terrific twos. We never believed a child needed to be rebellious in their teenage years. We expected something different and prayed accordingly. We did our best to instill God’s love and truths into their spirits and prayed nightly with them as they laid their heads on their pillows. We broke up sibling fights and did our best to keep boredom from settling in.

We took our children on mission trips around the world, taught them to save their hard-earned money and to tithe. We enjoyed a devotional time together many evenings and loved to leave them in charge of teaching us some spiritual lesson they learned. 

We gathered for meals around our table and discussed our day. It was open conversation time and we specialized in laughing together. Their friends were always welcomed to our home or on our family vacation to the beach, especially in those awkward teen years when they really needed a friend. We included their friends into our family and did our best to be welcoming and hospitable. 

Quite often we had guests staying with us or around our table and we learned to serve and listen to others. On occasion we would travel to Philadelphia and do outreaches to the homeless and we visited our local mission, as well as the very alone elderly in assisted living facilities without visitors.

The children loved their grandparents and we knew relationships were solid when they came home and said, “Grandpa rules.” Being with and influenced by an older generation is advantageous in developing a culture of honor and respect within the lives of our children.

Get crazy and enjoy a good old fashion mud battle with your kids!

Traveling to the mountains together was a regular routine where we would sleep in an uncomfortable rustic cabin, fishing, swimming and playing in the crystal-clear creek. We hunted crayfish, caught lightning bugs and ate lots of yummy food made on a campfire. 

Our home was never a perfect one because it was filled with imperfect persons, but family is what mattered. Now our children have children of their own. Will they go and do likewise? I know so. Family is God’s idea, always was. This Labor Day weekend while you are not laboring, your family is just waiting for time together to build relationship. Go and build memories that will last a lifetime which will then be handed down to their children’s children.

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Challenge, Children, Identity, Insecurity, Marriage, Parents

The Heart of a Child

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 30

My children will stand firm in their faith. Isaiah 7:9

My children will not turn to the right or to the left; they will walk in the way of the Lord, that they may live and prosper. Deuteronomy 5:32-34

Even as newborns, children recognize smells and the voices of those around them.  While my children were still in their mother’s womb, I would talk to them, pray over them and let them know who I was and how we anticipated their birth.  We would even read stories to them in utero.  From the womb we wanted our children to know their worth and value within our family.  When born, each of my children recognized my voice, as though they knew me and had met me before.  

Children also know and recognize who strangers are very early on.  They will typically not go into just anyone’s arms if they do not recognize the smell or the voice.  This new voice may feel strange to them and they may resist.  Even tiny babies recognize differences, as well as similarities. 

It is said that children are not born with identities; those identities are formed over time from belonging, acceptance and affirmation, safe relationships with family, community (like extended family or church family) and environment.  Children receive messages concerning their identity that are spoken and unspoken.  Most children recognize a response of shame, rejection or disapproval without one single word being verbalized. 

Further, a child’s identity relates to a number of other contributing factors like their own personal self-concept built by long-term relationships, their memories of life events that help to build their life stories, being listened to, their opportunities to explore, making decisions for themselves, experiencing failure and even how conflict is dealt with around them.

God has expectations of His children, but it is not our performances or our accomplishments that gain His approval. God is perfect, yet He is not into perfectionism. In our mere existence, He approves of us. 

The answer to a child’s healthy identity is not a high-esteem originating from some form of performance. The answer is a God-realized love and approval along with your love, acceptance, and approval of your child.  These two main ingredients are foundational to your child’s healthy identity.

I must correct and reward my children. It’s a part of life. However, I must differentiate that while reward and correction have to do with behavior, it is never a question that I love and accept their personhood. In their mere existence, they are important to me. I always approve of them as individuals. They can never do anything to not be my children. 

Strong and affirmative encouragement and approval from parents and grandparents will help your child to feel safe, capable, optimistic, well-adjusted and positive.  In reality, most role models that are positive, encouraging and life-giving to a child will help to build a positive identity.  We must take action to keep our children from negative, demeaning or destructive influences in their lives.

In Galatians 4:19, Paul the Apostle wrote, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”  Paul’s goal was to form or to build Christ, not himself.  I love the picture this presents because all the security and all the identity your child needs are not found in you, his/her parent, but in Christ Jesus.  

Finally, parenting requires a huge level of humility.  If we learn to approach our parenting with a spirit of humility, we will be able to admit when we are wrong.  We will also be able to apologize to our children allowing our children to change us.  Pride will certainly not help us in our parenting.

Question for refection:

How can you more effectively build Christ in your natural and spiritual children?

Watch for a bonus blog tomorrow!

To order the book for yourself, a friend, your family or a group click here.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Identity, Insecurity, Issues of the Day

Have You Been Noticed Lately?

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 6

You will be secure, because there is hope. Job 11:18

I am chosen by Him. I Thessalonians 1:4

One of the ways we focus on ourselves is through comparison.  Quite a few years ago while my children were still young, I wrote a leaflet that began with the following paragraph:

Maggie has never had a problem with her self-image.  She loves life and makes the best of every minute.  She loves people and believes that they all love and accept her unconditionally.  Maggie has never stared into a mirror and felt hopeless.  She’s never even desired to look at herself in a mirror and make any kind of judgement.  She is perfectly content with who she is, what she wears, the shape of her body, the color of her eyes, the size of her nose and the shape of her ears.  Maggie blindly trusts in her Creator.  She is content to be who she is.  You see, Maggie is our yellow Labrador Retriever.

The Bible tells us that comparison is unwise.  “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  (II Corinthians 10:12) How so?  When we compare ourselves to someone else, we typically come up short or proud—in other words, feeling insignificant or feeling better than another.  Both of these outcomes are unproductive and self-deprecating, not to mention possibly hurtful to others.  

Comparison does not build security in our lives.  Paul the Apostle told Timothy, his spiritual son, to watch his life…closely (I Timothy 4:6).  He did not say to compare your life to others.  

Here is a truth: The more self-focused we are, and comparison is a form of self-focus, the more insecure we will be.  Being self-focused stunts our growth and essentially inhibits our security.  

The Scripture expresses that the fear of man will prove to be a snare.  (Proverbs 29:25) What does that mean?  It will trip you up, it will steal your direction, it will keep you from following God’s voice, it will keep you stressed and it will steal your joy.  The fear of others’ opinions of us is as old as time.  Every life lived on this earth has dealt with this fear which can be all-consuming.  

Paul the Apostle was writing to the Galatian church about this very subject.  In chapter one, he was saying how astonished he was that they would so quickly be deserting the One who had called them and they would be following a false gospel. He related it to a false gospel that others were speaking to them.  He then writes this, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?” 

You are chosen by Him; you need not compare yourself to anyone! You are uniquely created by your heavenly Father and there is great hope in His security. He notices you every day of your life!

Question for reflection:

If you find that you compare yourself with others, how can God’s approval of you bring an end to your comparison?

To order the book for yourself, a friend, your family or a group click here.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Parents, Singles, Small Groups

The Trap of Emotional Dependency

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 3

I am now God’s child. I John 3:2

I am highly esteemed. Daniel 9:23

When we solely look to another for our purpose, our meaning, our significance and our security, we might find ourselves in an emotionally dependent relationship.  

Everyone needs to know they are loved and approved of. Our first recognized source of love and approval is the family. Often, in dysfunctional homes, children may grow up with parents who are harsh, too strict, unable to be pleased, and critical. They control their children through shame and blame. These children can become guilt-ridden, confused about authority, overly responsible or compulsive. They frequently try to please their parents but seem to never quite measure up. In severe cases of this emotional roller coaster, self-identity problems emerge and an esteem crisis ensues. 

The second source of love, acceptance and approval is from God. I say “second” source because we recognize it after we recognize the need for a family’s love and approval. 

We need others. I am convinced relationship with God and with others is the most important thing in life. Jesus taught this principle when one day a Pharisee raised the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus then replied that we were to love the Lord our God with all our heart…soul…and mind…and love our neighbor as our self. (Matthew 22:36-39) However, our need for relationship cannot be allowed to become the center of another person’s life. The emotionally dependent person feels as though he or she cannot exist or function without this relationship. Mistakenly, this association is an attempt to meet the need for intimacy and security. 

We become vulnerable or susceptible to dependent relationships when we focus on our needs rather than the Word of God. When we lean too heavily upon one particular person, the emotional attachment can begin, causing us to lose our objectivity in the relationship.

Does the Bible speak to emotional dependency?  Not directly. But throughout the Scriptures, we are admonished to be self-controlled. Paul wrote in the book of Titus 2:1-8 about sound doctrine. Let’s see how they apply: 

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the Word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. 

You are first God’s child. In a healthy way you are dependent upon Him and interdependent with others. No one other than Jesus can satisfy your need for relational connection. It is He who highly esteems you!

Question for reflection:

Are you dealing with any emotional dependency in your life that you need to turn over to Jesus?

To order the book at a significant discount for yourself, your family or for a group study click here.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Men, Parents

Raising Your Children Without Faith

Ten years of my working career were spent as a social worker in the foster care field. Then, another fifteen years were given to marriage, family and individual counseling. After 25 years I felt as though I had heard and seen it all or perhaps too much. 

In foster care I saw the direct result of youth who had little to no faith training from their biological homes. Perhaps this was not on purpose or to drill secularism into their heads, but more so the lack of faith among parents. This lack of faith came with direct consequences to the child. 

In counseling I saw missing fathers or abandoning mothers, divorcing parents, single or single again parents and lost children. These children, with no faith to rely on, often enter into a world of self-blame, depression, emotional upheaval and/or self-destructive behaviors. 

When you choose to raise your children without faith you are making a choice to have your children ultimately trust themselves and the adults in their lives who have proven to be trustworthy. At one time or another, we are let down by those adults and we have to return to the single thought of self-trust. This creates a seedbed for selfishness, self-reliance and the possibility of continually letting oneself down when discovering that all of a child’s self-effort is simply not enough.

Without faith also means without a faith community – a local church. That community reinforces your values, provides relationships and amazing activities for children. It gives them a sense of belonging to a larger family that worships together and does life together.

Without faith also means without the word of God, the Bible. These words handed to us from God provide the ultimate spiritual training, reinforcement of sound values, love and a source of daily encouragement. The stories of Jonah and the big fish, the parables of Jesus, the wisdom found in Proverbs and the prophecy about the future are all more current than tomorrows newspaper.

When God and God’s Son are not a part of the picture, we are left with our best thoughts. But when training our children to love and trust God first in their lives, we are preparing them for eternity, we are bringing them hope for today and their future and we are encouraging them to look beyond their personal limits to a limitless God. When children are taught to love God first they will have a greater capacity to love others and to properly love themselves in a healthy way. (See Matthew 22:37-39.)

When a child is taught to act on faith rather than their best thoughts or intentions, they are acknowledging personal limits, a need to trust Someone bigger than themselves, that life with faith in God is a life with meaning beyond what parents and things/possessions can provide. For a child to learn to acknowledge faith, they are acknowledging a need beyond personal limits with a healthy expression of “…seeking first the kingdom of God.” (See Matthew 6:33.)

When a child learns to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” they are learning that ultimately their physical, emotional, spiritual and financial needs are met by a loving heavenly Father first and foremost. They are learning the security of God’s loving boundaries. They are discovering faith in their Creator who has their best interest in mind. They are receiving an affirmation of their existence, a security, an identity and safety in the Protector who watches over them 24/7. 

Dads, you are a primary source of faith training to your children. How you live your life and how you share your faith will directly reflect upon how your son or daughter views their heavenly Father. When your children see you serving God, serving their family, serving them and serving others they will identify with a loving heavenly Father. The love and security, affirmation and acceptance from you directly translates into your child’s ability to discover those things from Abba God. And what a joy to hear your children’s prayers, to see their loving acts, to find security in a God they can trust and to watch them follow the God you yourself follow. 

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Happy Father’s Day to you!

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Parents

A Crochety Old Store Owner

Down the street from where my mother worked as a beautician was a candy store with every child’s dream of sweet delights. So many kinds of candy imaginable and most of it was one cent per piece. However, on this particular day, I was after an ice cream cone. The problem was, there were too many flavors to choose from. The elderly store owner was growing impatient with me, but I just struggled to decide. Finally, she barked, “WELL, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” I looked at her, the flavors, the ice cream, fiddled with the change in my hand and then shrugged my shoulders.

 

The next thing I knew she told me to, “GET THE H*** OUT” until I could decide. I was so scared, I ran for the door, ran down the street and ran into my mom’s beauty shop. Through my tears, I told my mother what happened. She marched me right back to that store, letting the crochety old lady know the little boy hiding behind her was her son. Man, did that store owner ever change her tune in a hurry. With ice cream in hand, my mother taught me a few lessons that day.

 

The first lesson was to not be afraid of confronting my fears. My mother was not afraid or intimidated by that store owner. She pursued what her son was too fearful to complete. Believing my story, she refused to allow her son to be treated in such a harsh, unpleasant way. Parents protect. She taught me that I could stand up for myself and it wasn’t wrong to do so. There was no love in that store owner’s expression to me, only fear-filled words. My mother, on the other hand, spoke only words of love.

 

Joshua 23:10 expresses that God would be with Joshua and fight for him. I believe He fights for you and me. Like a loving parent, He sees how His children are treated and responds in love to each of us. You are protected by Him and with His voice of love, encouraged to face your fears.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Healing, Issues of the Day, Parents

The Passing of My Father

My father has been in assisted living for seven years. For almost six of those years he was very unhappy to be there and voiced his complaints vehemently to me during almost every visit. More recently we were unable to see him from March to August due to COVID restrictions. We called, but it’s not the same and a 97-year-old blind man whose day-to-day life does not change struggles to have conversation on the phone. But finally, in August we were able to have an outdoor, “socially distanced” visit with him.

 

Not understanding COVID and not understanding the distance, he kept reaching his arms out for our usual hugs. We explained the situation only to have him do the same five minutes later. The nurse explained, but once again he wanted a hug, any kind of touch from us when the visit was over. It was heartwrenching and way too sad for my dad, knowing he wasn’t comprehending a world pandemic.

 

Several weeks later we were told by hospice staff for no known reason that he was going downhill very quickly. We went to see him. This time they allowed us in his room with masks. We touched him, talked to him, prayed with him and kissed him. He never awoke or responded. The next day we were back. We held his hand and stroked his arm, we read scripture and prayed and there was no response. My children called their grandpa and voiced their tear-filled goodbyes; then my mother and finally my sister also spoke to him. I placed the phone by his ear hoping that he could hear them.

 

Because he was a professional accordion player since he was a teenager, we found accordion music on my phone — polkas, his favorite. For his last hour of breath, he heard something familiar and something he loved, an accordion. In three brief hours he passed, forever gone from our lives on this earth. Under my breath I said, “See you later, Dad; it’s not goodbye.”

 

There is no perfect family and certainly no perfect father. I was not a perfect father and I do not have a perfect family. We hold our parents up to perfection, but at the same time give ourselves a free pass from maintaining any form of perfection ourselves. There is no perfect son or daughter.

 

I am thankful for the father God gave me, for it was He who saw fit to give me birth into this family and not another. And at his moment of death, I was also thankful for so many other things. Things like: he prayed with my wife to receive Christ ten years earlier; we were in good relationship; I walked in forgiveness; I told him I loved him; I was not angry at him for anything and I trust I will see him again because Someone else forgave him.

 

Enjoy a video of my father still playing his accordion in his mid 90’s. I remember him commenting about his mistakes and how embarassed he was by his “old age,” not so nimble fingers.  

 

It was Jesus who said we were to forgive as we have been forgiven. Those words are straight from His prescription pad. When taken seriously, they have medicinal purposes. It is medicine, not for the one who you feel needs forgiven, but rather for you. Forgiveness always brings personal freedom and can mend relationships.

 

Over many years of life I have come to believe that one of the greatest indicators of personal and emotional health is if you have dealt with your father wounds – for some, mother wounds. Regardless of history, he is still your father and the love of Jesus demands that you love him and serve him in any way you can. When we take that fifth commandment of the Old Testament (repeated once agan in the New Testament) seriously, we are given a promise: if you honor your father and mother, God will honor you with long life.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

A Lack of Protection and Security in Your Home

During my grade school years, we had the occasional, but normal fire drills and we also participated in bomb drill exercises. We were instructed by our teacher to place our heads and upper torso under our desks, just in case the day would come that there would be a real bomb. Those were some pretty powerful desks! Our school even had its own bomb shelter located in the basement of the building. It seems the thought was during the cold war, at any given time, we could be bombed. Pretty scary stuff for a grade schooler.

 

If you or I grow up in an unsafe environment, an environment of insecurity, abuse, neglect or simply without parental protection we too can deal with similar emotions of fear. We all need a safe environment and we all need protection. We need the protection of laws to maintain society. We need the protection of natural parents and spiritual parents.  We need the protection of our spouse. Each of us require multiple areas of needed protection.

 

However, occasionally that protection is missing, neglected or lacking in existence. Sometimes a husband is standing idly by and not protecting his wife and family. Sometimes a wife has her priorities elsewhere. When we as a spouse fail to follow God’s word, responding in a godly manner with righteous, loving, protective authority, our spouse and our children will not know security. Long term insecurity can lead to anxiety, a loss of identity and fear. And when fear is present, love is absent.

 

A spirit of fear is not from God. The Father’s heart is to love and protect you and it is His desire to use husbands and fathers, wives and mothers in that protection as well. In what ways are you providing loving protection to your spouse and children today, which in turn brings security, safety and the lack of fear?

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Children, Encouragement, In the news, Parents

He Never Stops Searching for the Kidnapped

It’s an older story now and a Lifetime movie. In 1997, Luzaida Cuevas’ 10-day-old daughter, Delimar Vera, reportedly died in a Philadelphia, Pa row home fire. The mother searched for her baby in her crib and noticed an open window, but could not find her. The fire personnel told ‘Luz’ the fire was so hot it consumed her little body without a trace, but Luz never believed that story and tried to hire a lawyer. She could not afford those expenses, but never stopped believing that her daughter was alive. And then, one amazing day…

 

Six years later on January 24th, Luz was attending a children’s birthday party and she spotted a little six-year-old girl with a pronounced dimple she recognized immediately. She called the girl to her telling her she had gum in her hair. Having seen crime shows on TV, she was able to secure a few strands of the child’s hair for DNA testing.

 

The DNA test confirmed Luzaida’s suspicion, it was her daughter who was kidnapped by a frequent visitor to her home. The kidnapper set her home a blaze as a distraction. A local state politician helped Luz secure the DNA test and connected her with the police. The kidnapper was arrested and eventually Delimar was returned to her biological mother.

 

Reading this story about the never-ending love of a mother, a mother who did not give up believing her daughter was alive reminds me of something. After six years, that same mother just knew her eyes and her soul were connecting with the daughter she had last seen at the age of ten days. It reminds me of God’s love and God’s heart for me, for you and for all of mankind. I could just sense how our Father searches and waits to restore those who are lost, those who have been kidnapped by the world around them.

 

They are your relatives and your neighbors. Even though we may struggle in our relationships with these persons at times, God does not. He is relentlessly pursuing them with His love, His acceptance, His healing and His salvation.

 

 

“God, give us eyes to see them as You see them, to love them as You love them and to pray for them. Help us to not be angry with them, but rather with their ‘kidnapper.’”

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