Do adults ever play?

Calvin & Hobbes
 Source: Calvin & Hobbes 1

Last weekend a bunch of dads and daughters ventured into the great outdoors, endeavoring to build lasting memories together while camping, eating, s’mores-ing, fishing, playing, giggling, et cetera. The thing is, each of the fathers had to at one point recognize their ambitious plans for a great weekend had to step aside for the joy of whatever their daughter(s) wanted to do at that moment.

Plans that would need to be as fluid as the changing weather. And they were.

We didn’t catch any fish, though some newts became instant pets (before returning to their marshlands safely). Meals and bedtimes and dietary restrictions were merely guidelines, not rules. We had a ton of fun.

When the rain subsided, a beloved activity of this group of giddy girls was riding razor scooters and bikes around the campsite loop, with some rolling hills. It was a challenge to maintain speed all the way around. At least one of us dads needed to accompany, and I’m glad to say most of the dads joined in with their daughter(s) at one point or another. Since I’m no use in food prep nor in cooking a large-group meal, I instead volunteered to join these impromptu wheeled adventures.

Daddy-Daughter Campout

The biking and scooter-ing were way more fun when it wasn’t raining, and that’s when one of the girls asked me how long the loop was. “I don’t know,” I responded, “how long do you think it is? Definitely less than a mile; maybe a half mile?”  She then asked if I had my GPS watch to “keep track.” Yep, it’s in my bag as usual. So I put on my Garmin, and we all started out again on our loops. There were the inevitable bumps and bruises when one of the riders did a yard sale over the scooter bars, yet those girls are tough and within minutes each time were back at it.

Later we figured out each loop was about a third of a mile, and one girl noted she had done twenty-five loops. A bit of math scratched out in the dirt led her to realize that day’s bike riding added up to more than eight miles around that campground. Whoa. Solid effort. That is active play.


I took a little flack from some of the men for “measuring” the play time. I quipped back that I had been the one running the loops with the kids, gathering the wounded, and bringing them back, while (some of) the other dads sat around. (Men can take jabs at one another like this, and still remain friends.) Yet the remark about not measuring has some merit, because an unmeasured life has significant qualities to it.

Like the Calvin and Hobbes comic above, we grown-ups don’t often go outside and play. Our lives are rigorously measured, with many goals and timelines, so when we get some down-time we seek out other ways to set aside responsibilities for a breather. (Ahh. Let me just sit here in peace.)

I wonder what happens to us adults as we lose our “childlikeness” (not childishness, which is foolish and immature, and many keep). Rather, like a child, when we do give ourselves permission again to be overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder when out and about in nature?

Why do we glue ourselves to gadgets to be amused, rather than go muse about out in creation?

(I’m not talking about the difference between using an exercise tracker versus playing “free” of any devices.) Continue reading

  1. Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, May 12, 2015

The Greenhouse: where the Gospel grows at home.

As a church family RENEW is venturing through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. What began as deep, rich theology, has turned the corner to the “practical matters” of life. It’s as if the foundation has been laid, the walls are built, and the fixtures installed. Now we’re living in the house God built, full of grace and truth. He enters every room where life is enjoyed and helps us re-order it around the centerpiece, the Gospel of Grace. Next week is about work, our life vocation, while last week was about marriage. This week is about parenting.

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),
3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
—Ephesians 6:1-4

In our home we want to see these commands obeyed, from the heart. And not just by the kids. We are all children, even us grown-ups. We all have parents, whether living or deceased. We all were children at one time, with good parents, or bad ones, or mostly likely, imperfect parents who did their best and wanted us to become more than they were (with varying definitions of “more”).


At one time we children stopped obeying our parents, for we grew up and they no longer had authority over us. (Or if your parents were bad and asked you to do things against God’s good and pleasing well, then you had to stop obeying them earlier.) Yet we never stop honoring them. That’s the challenge for us adult kids, to keep honoring our parents, and pursuing creative ways to do that. Just as parents set aside what they wanted to do in order to give us what we needed, now we set aside what we want in order to bless them.

20130701-064554.jpg We’ve nicknamed our house the Greenhouse, partly because it’s green, but mostly because we hope to grow up our “starts” into healthy, thriving “plants.” A greenhouse is an optimal environment which provides everything necessary for growth. There’s food, water, shelter, and yet much more. There’s a healthy — even loving — structure and order of things, with a master gardener who ensures every plant thrives in order to “grow up” and one day grow roots down into other soil outside the safe confines of the greenhouse. It takes nurture and it takes discipline. Both are necessary in a nuanced balance. That’s the essence of “instruction,” which is really teaching. And teaching is more than telling others what to do and believe. Teaching involves a relationship; it means walking alongside others as they learn, and letting them fail in safe ways before — and so that — they succeed. Every teacher will tell you it’s hard yet wonderfully rewarding work. I am learning that good parents are teachers.

Continue reading


Ending all this March Madness (watching with my kids, in April).

March Madness is my favorite sports season. It’s quick, exciting, and provides good conversation with friends near and far, because one doesn’t have to follow the teams all season long to have an opinion. It’s an easy on-ramp to accessible sports to end the winter and bring on spring. Plus, there appears to be a genuine “love of the game” displayed out there on the court. Of course, the genius of March Madness is the filthy amounts of money in it. TV ads sell at a premium for all the broadcasts of the field of 64 (or now, 68). There’s a different love of the game at play for those wearing suits instead of jerseys.


For the last two weeks you’ve probably heard about the big business of college sports. Bloggers calling for accountability with the NCAA, the governing body lining its pockets with gold and sweat from the players’ brows. Beat writers giving the behind-the-scenes interviews with disaffected student-athletes dishing on being special recipients of cash, pleasure or good grades. Even a new awareness of why the term “student-athlete” is the preferred lingo across the land. (If they are students and athletes, and not employees, there’s no responsibility to provide workers compensation—both in insurance, and renumeration). Kevin Ware’s horrific broken-leg injury on Easter Sunday brought more of these issues to the limelight. Will he ever play again? Will a scholarship be waiting for him next year? Will he resurrect his playing career? (I won’t link to a photo of the injury; almost threw up when I saw it happen live in front of the Louisville Cardinal bench.)

These are calls for justice, even in the arena of sport.

(Maybe you’ve heard it. I listen to a bit of what I jokingly call “conservative sports talk radio.” It’s the only radio programming I can stand, because the personalities on political talk radio seem to dumb it down too much and talk at us like we’re all idiots. Well, maybe we are, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Back to justice in sports …

People get really amped up when their beloved past-time (read: way of checking out and coping) suddenly feels rigged. We like things to be “pure,” and somehow act surprised when things aren’t as they should or appear to be. From the public outrage over Beyonce lip-syncing at the Presidential Inauguration, to wardrobe malfunctions during the Super Bowl halftime show, to the time you suggested an old favorite movie to watch with friends or your kids and realized, “Oh no, this isn’t as ‘clean’ as I remember it was!” (News flash: the storyline and innuendo in the nice feel-good romantic movie “Dirty Dancing” is appropriately disclosed in the title. It’s not so much a movie about “dancing.”) I’m the same way. It takes stepping back and recognizing the good-and-bad mixed together, especially when it comes to entertainment.

Tonight I will probably watch the National Championship basketball game, the climactic end of this run of March Madness. (My bracket is in shambles, as I somehow thought Gonzaga would shine brightly in their moment of recognition and make it through the gauntlet as a #1 seed.) I say “probably” watch because I first need to check with the boss on that.

If we watch, our kids and I will sit in the home office on the big chair and snuggle and spill popcorn. During the commercials we’ll do some pretty important things together: go feed their new goldfish, get ready for bed, pick up the loft, brush our teeth, and so forth. Not without protest.

Bedtime means the end of the day of fun. Yet the protest could have other special reasons tonight. The timing of our breaks may lead to some disagreement. There’s something subconscious that happens during the breaks in the game action. See, my son’s favorite part of television is the commercials. If we had it on much he would wish to only see the commercials, not the shows, and would spend the rest of his days reciting the mantras of his favorite ads. One time at bedtime he remarked that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because … well … “it’s where magic happens!” (I’m sure he learned that at his grandparents. 😉

When bedtime comes around—likely before the game is over and the nets are cut down—we’ll snuggle and laugh and talk about the highlights and lowlights of our day. It’s a drawn-out process, as much as the kids have a say. The stories of adventure, questions of what fun things happened today (and tonight, probably about the television ads) fill the dimly lit room.

It’s during those times I long to be a good father. Of course, part of telling these stories is to buy more time before having to fall asleep. And part of it, the cute part, the part I will never miss as a father, is the way in which their curiosity and learning is seeping out of them. It’s always my favorite time of the day, the least “productive” yet most rewarding. Even when tired, it’s the most wonderful time of the day.

20130408-045607.jpgAs for the game: apparently there is a method to all this madness. The NCAA recognizes the money to be made in advertising, and while they sell the product promote the student-athletes on the court, many suitors have shown up on their porch (at the door of CBS, TBS, TruTV, and the online streaming broadcasts of the games) to promote their wares in ad space. They are buying time. A basketball game is actually a pretty short contest. There’s a reason for all the stoppage of play, timeouts, and long breaks. Ben Cohen reveals the numbers on the sports blog for the Wall Street Journal:

“In fact, basketball accounts for just 29.4% of a basketball broadcast. The rest is devoted to stoppages like media timeouts, which are extended in the NCAA tournament and take up 20.5%, and halftime, which is more than 22 minutes on average. The stoppages starting with the last media timeout, at the first whistle after the four-minute mark of the second half, averaged over 17 minutes. The total time of rest after whistles is more than 12 minutes. And the wait during free throws accounts for 13.2% of NCAA tournament broadcasts, or almost 18 minutes. In fact, the median break for free throws in these three games lasted 50 seconds—enough time to think of everything else you could be doing with your time.”

My question for you: what will you do with all that extra time? If the game lasts three hours, and about 30% (54 minutes) of it was actual game action, how will you fill the remaining two hours and six minutes?

I’ll be there, remote it hand, to mute or turn off the TV, asking our kids questions about their thoughts and feelings. The real action will be thousands of miles from the game in Atlanta. It will be right in the room, with plenty of time to make sense of the madness.

Who’s playing again?


Most moms and dads think they are either the best or the worst parents around (and both are wrong).

Here’s a fairly typical example of what gospel-centered attempts at parenting can look like in action (by Kevin Deyoung, a pastor):

Me: What’s the matter son?
Child: I want that toy and he won’t give it to me!
Me: Why do you want the toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What’s going on in your heart when you desire that toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Think about it son. Use your brain. Don’t you know something?
Child: I guess I just want the toy.
Me: Obviously. But why?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Fine. [Mental note: abandon “why” questions and skip straight to leading questions.] Do you think he is having fun playing with the toy right now?
Child: No.
Me: Really?! He’s not having fun? Then why does he want that toy in the first place?
Child: Because he’s mean.
Me: Have you ever considered that maybe you are being mean by trying to rip the toy from his quivering little hands?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What do you know?
Child: I don’t know!
Me: Nevermind. [I wonder how my brilliant child can know absolutely nothing at this moment.] Well, I think taking the toy from him will make your brother sad. Do you like to make him sad?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: [Audible sigh.]
Child: He makes me sad all the time!
Me: Well, I’m getting sad right now with your attitude! [Pause, think, what would Paul Tripp do?  Thinking . . .  thinking . . . Man, I can’t stop thinking of that mustache. This isn’t working. Let’s just go right to the Jesus part.] You know, Jesus wants us to love each other.
Child: I don’t know.
Me: I didn’t ask you a question!
Child: [Pause.] Can I have some fruit snacks?
: No, you can’t have fruit snacks. We are talking about the gospel. Jesus loves us and died for us. He wants you to love your brother too.
Child: So?
Me: So give him the toy back!

Then I lunge for the toy and the child runs away. I tell him to come back here this instant and threaten to throw the toy in the trash. I recommit myself to turning down speaking engagements on parenting.

Read the whole post, which is encouraging. A couple of lines that stood out:

  • The quip cited by Alistair Begg:When I was young I had six theories and no kids. Now I have six kids and no theories.”
  • And from Kevin’s church secretary: “Most moms and dads think they are either the best or the worst parents around, and both are wrong.”

Here is Kevin’s upshot:

I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they’re were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.” Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.


Know the one Good Story so well you (& your kids) can recognize strands of truth & deception.

“We want our kids to know the one good story so well that when they see Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo, Anne of Green Gables, Ariel, or Sleeping Beauty, they can recognize the strands of truth and deception in them.”

—Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, page 120.

Illustration by Karalee Reinke, via her husband Tony.


Wisdom: How do I protect my kids from consumerism and envy?

As a father or two little ones, and a pastor to a few more, I appreciate Ken’s wisdom and grace as he responds to this urgent question (as a father and pastor):

Ken Wytsma, President of Kilns College and Pastor of Antioch Church in Bend, OR, talks about the effects of American consumerism and envy on children. [via :redux]