Tag Archives: Parenting

Birthday Book Giveaway

Though I used to try and avoid mention of my birthday, I’ve been finding unique ways to embrace it. It’s a chance to do something fun, or selfish, or ask unique requests of others. So, today I launch my own Birthday Book Giveaway.

Clean Water for EliroseLast week I mentioned Clean Water for Elirose, a children’s book I wrote. Well, for the next 48 hours I’d like to giveaway copies of the book to anyone who makes a donation to the Elirose Charity Water project. Anyone who makes a donation over $5 will get a copy of the book in the mail. It cost me about $5 each to send the book, so please be generous in your donation to the water project. The goal is to raise $5000 from Clean Water for Elirose book sales, which is enough to build one clean water well to provide clean water for 50 families or 250 people.

And there you have it. The point of the Book Giveaway is two-fold. First, it’s an incentive for you to give to a worthy cause. Second, it’s an opportunity to put Clean Water for Elirose into the hands of kids, parents and teachers to help discuss the topic and expose kids to both the injustices in the world and tangible ways that they can help.

Donate to Charity:Water and email me your address before 9am October 8th

Clean Water for Elirose

Four years ago, when we were expecting our daughter, I knew I was about to begin a major shift in my priorities. It would still be a high priority to live out my faith and values, but above all else, the top priority is now to lovingly raise my children and instill those values that are so central to my life in theirs as well. In addition to simply loving my kids, I wanted to help them to see the world the way I had grown to see it. A large community where we are all intertwined and where our decisions impact others.

My kids are 4 and 3 now and, as concrete thinkers, reading books with them is one of the most tangible ways to expand their world, next to actually experiencing things in real life. My journey to find children’s picture books that discussed topics like poverty and homelessness, clean drinking water and lack of education, was fruitful, but sparse. It was a genre with books few and far between. And so, I set out to write my own.

Read the book Online
Read the book Online

Clean Water for Elirose is a children’s picture book about what kids drink and how four young kids make a difference in fifth child’s life, Elirose. My goal with writing the book is two-fold.

  1. To provide parents with a meaningful way to discuss a global social issue with their young children.
  2. To use the book as a tool itself for fundraising for clean drinking water.

My hope is that it reaches those goals, if even on a small scale. If your interested in ordering a copy you can do that here. Anyone is free to buy a “teachers copy” for $5, which is the same book, but doesn’t cover the total costs ($3.65 per copy of the book, ~$2.10 for shipping plus envelope). Or, you can order a $15 copy and about $10 if your purchase will go directly to supporting a clean water well project (currently with Charity:Water).

I’d love your help getting the word out if your willing. Review the book on your blog, ask your local parenting mag or paper to write a review, purchase a copy for your library, tell your friends or use it as a fundraiser for your next missions trip. Oh, and let me know what you think with a comment below.

Ask The Readers: Tips for Traveling With Toddlers?

So, I don’t have any deep thoughts this morning as most of what I’ve been thinking about is an upcoming trip and how we are going to make it smooth and entertaining for two toddlers. Any advice? Mainly, these are the specific things I’ve been thinking about…

  • Easy to pack, exciting, lightweight snacks for the road
  • How to entertain a 2 and 3 year old during a three hour plane ride
  • What toys/activities to pack that won’t take up much luggage space, but will keep toddlers entertained for an entire week
  • OR what cheap but entertaining toys to buy once we get to our destination
  • Tricks to hauling carseats, strollers, backpacks, and kids along through an airport
  • And any other tips for traveling one might have…

Book Review: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

https://tryingtofollow.com/wp-content/linkedimages/upload//images/I/51TXV4QK5RL.jpgIf you’ve had a baby or are going to have a baby then Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott is a must read. It’s a journal of the first year of her son’s life and a true to life parenting story to balance all the “Parenting in Three Easy Steps” types of books.

I won’t bore you with my consistent praise for Lamott, I’ve read a ton of her books this year and have loved every single one. She’s so true to life and makes you recognize the beauty in the little things.

Instead of raving about it I’ll leave you with some quotes and excerpts from the book (Some long, cause I was a huge fan). I’ll start with a couple whole sections:

Have I mentioned how much I hate expressing milk? I do it nearly every day so there will be bottles of milk on hand for whoever comes by to take care of Sam, but I hate the fucking breast pump. It’s the ultimate bovine humiliation, and it hurts, the suction is so strong. You feel plugged into a medieval milking machine that turns your poor little gumdrop nipples into purple slugs with the texture of rhinoceros hide. You sit there furtively pumping away, producing nebbishy little sprays on the side of the pump bottle until finally you’ve got half a cup of milk and nipples six inches long. It’s so incredibly unsexy and secretive, definitely not something you could ever mention on “Wheel of Fortune,” nothing you’d ever find in a Costoo piece about ten ways to turn on your lover — crotchless underpants and a breast pump. I sit there in the kitchen miserably pumping away, feeling like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, pumping out a bottle of milk for the little infant Antichrist. Yesterday the refrigerator wasn’t working, so after I produced a small bottle of breast milk, I had to store it in a wide-mouth thermos filled with ice, like it was a severed finger that I was about to rush to the hospital to have sewn back on. It was too ridiculous for words.

And another…

“Last night I decided that it is totally nuts to believe in Christ, that it is every bit as crazy as being a Scientologist or a Jehovah’s Witness. Then something truly amazing happened. A man from church showed up at our front door, smiling and waving to me and Sam, and I went to let him in. He is… named Gordon, fiftyish, married to our associate pastor, and after exchanging pleasantries he said, ‘Margaret and I wanted to do something for you and the baby. So what I want to ask is, what if a fairy appeared on your doorstep and said that he or she would do any favor for you at all, anything you wanted around the house that you felt too exhausted to do by yourself and too ashamed to ask anyone else to help you with?”

‘I can’t even say,’ I said. ‘It’s too horrible.’

“But he finally convinced me to tell him, and I said it would be to clean the bathroom, and he ended up spending an hour scrubbing the bathtub and toilet and sink. I sat on the couch while he worked, watching TV, feeling vaguely guilty and nursing Sam to sleep. But it made me feel sure of Christ again, of that kind of love. This, a man scrubbing a new mother’s bathtub, is what Jesus means to me.”

She has this great line about apologizing to her son for saying mean things about guys.

“I nursed him for a long time tonight. He’s so beautiful it can make me teary. I told him I was sorry for thinking such sexist stuff about his people.”

And this last story is just a touching example of God’s love.

There’s a woman named Anne who took her two-year-old child up to Tahoe during the summer. There stayed in rented condominium by the lake. And of course, it’s such a hotbed of gambling that all the rooms are equipped with those curtains and shades that block out every speck of light so you can stay up all night in the casinos and then sleep all morning. One afternoon she put the baby to bed in his playpen in one of those rooms, in the pitch dark, and went to do some work.

A few minutes later she heard her baby knocking on the door from inside the room, and she got up, knowing he’d crawled out of his playpen. She went to put him down again, but when she got to the door, she found he’d locked it. He had somehow managed to push the little button on the doorknob. He was calling to her, “Mommy, Mommy, and Anne was saying to him, “Jiggle the door knob, darling,” and of course he couldn’t even see the knob to know what she was talking about. After a moment, it became clear to him that his mother could not open the door, and panic set in. He began sobbing. So Anne, his mother ran around like crazy trying everything possible, like trying to get the door to work, calling the rental agency where she left a message on the machine, calling the manager of the condominium where she left another message and running back to check in with her son every minute or so. And there in the dark, this terrified little child. Finally she did the only thing she could, which was to slide her fingers underneath the door, where there were a few centimeters of space. She kept telling him over and over to bend down and find her fingers.And somehow he did. So they stayed like that for a really long time – connected, on the floor, him holding her fingers in the dark. He stopped crying…

I keep thinking of that story, how much it feels like I’m the two-year-old in the dark and God is the mother and I don’t speak the language. She could break down the door if that struck her as being the best way, and ride off with me on her charger. But instead, via my friends and my church and my shabby faith, I can just hold onto her fingers underneath the door. It isn’t enough; and it is.

This Is How It All Begins


Adbusters Magazine is awesome, this page is from their recent issue about ‘cool.’ I think they nail on the head one of my fears about raising my child in this consumeristic society with this little piece. The text at the bottom reads:

Even before your baby is born, a diaper arrives on your doorsteps, courtesy of Pampers. Once he opens his eyes, his childhood will be a whirlwind of logos and ads. School will be themed with endless commercials from sponsors. His heroes and role models will encourage him to buy products. By adolescence, he will have lost most of his original thoughts and emotions; he will look for cues from the marketers who have been with him from the beginning of his life to decide how he is to look, act and feel.

One might think this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is. I know my own life is telling of the influence of branding on me, and even when I try to avoid being ‘branded’ my choices are at the least affected by it (even if I’m purposefully choosing the opposite). Adbusters always gets me thinking on a different level then I generally consider. They call everything into question.

So, what is the solution for us parents and us as individuals fighting the system ourselves? Imagine a new system.
I think this quote, from another page of Adbusters issue on Cool nails it on the head…

“I want to live in a world where nothing is cool, where things actually are as they appear. That would be extraordinary. I want food and a living environment that are not part of some suit’s strategic vision. Cool has betrayed all of us. I want reality.” – Jessica Masse, Maine, USA

“Safe” Is an Interesting Word

In our recent search for a neighborhood and place to make home, the term “Safe” has been thrown around quite a bit by others. Those who say it are usually very genuine and well-intending: “Now that you have a baby, you’ll want to make sure you find a safe area of the city,” or “I’m sure you’ll be able to find a nice, safe neighborhood to purchase a home in.” I find it extremely difficult to respond to statements like these because of the layers and layers of underlying assumptions behind them. Let me try and break this down a little bit.

What do they mean by ‘safe?’
I think the most obvious is that they don’t want us living where the feature crime stories on the evening news are located. Physical safety is their obvious concern and there is certainly some validity to that. Unfortunately, our major indicator of ‘safety’ is the evening news, which tends to categorize it’s media in interesting ways, and it continually reinforces our stereotypes. First, the news covers mostly negative stories, ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’ Second, the news, and people, tend to categorize in ways we understand; so a large geographic area, falls into one categorization (just like a large people group or income level). What you end up with is that ‘safe’ means living anywhere other then the area of town where the poor, and many minorities, have been isolated to.

I guess I would like to start by asking different questions, and having different concerns then ‘safety.’ Shane Claiborne touches on it well:

“People sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. I say that I am more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or we can fear those things which can destroy our souls, and we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia.

As my mother once told me, “Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others.” I’m scared of apathy and complacency, of detaching myself from the suffering. It’s hard to see until our 20/20 hindsight hits us—but every time we lock someone out, we lock ourselves further in.” [via]

As I am trying to follow, I think the first question in deciding where to live is to ask, “What does Christ call me to?” I think a quick reading of Scripture would make it quite clear we are not first called to physical safety. Christ himself spends time with the poor and the oppressed, the ‘desperate and dangerous’ people of his day. He lives amongst the unsafe and ‘unclean’ and he speaks out to his followers to do the same, addressing injustices along the way.

Finally, as it relates to children, there is a strong lead in the Bible to teach your children to follow the faith. The goal is not to keep your child ‘safe’ above all else, but rather to lead your child to truth. Having children does not mean you forsake your values in an effort to preserve their physical longevity, it means you hold that much more strongly to the truths and convictions that you know to be true, that you might properly serve to point them toward the truth.

Promises to Baby

I don’t know how I managed to read a parenting book around my sophomore year of high school, but I did. The book was called Promises to Peter, by Charlie Shedd. It had some interesting perspectives on things, but the reason I remember it a decade later (funny that I’m old enough to say that) is that the idea of making promises to your new born was intriguing and commendable to me. Here, are the original promises to Peter (the author’s son) from the book:

“First, I pledge that I will remember
always it takes a lot of love to make good children.

Next, I promise you that I will never
say “No” if I can possibly say “Yes.”

Here is my Third promise: I pledge that
I will really be with you when I am with you.

I pledge you also that I will try to
see things from a child’s point of view.

Comes now a small item, but very hard
sometimes. I promise to be a good waiter.

And here is the top promise. I will do
everything I can to put your hand in the hand of your Heavenly

The two that I have remembered since the moment I read the book is number two and the last one. Before you think the saying ‘yes’ bit is a laissez faire way of parenting, let me explain.
I think we make kids grow up too early. We kill their creativity, we force them to see the world as everyone else does, not with the new perspective they might. I believe the example he gives in the book is about a bundle of twine he had in the garage that he constantly told his kids not to touch, it was off-limits. Then one day he realize there wasn’t really a good reason he was keeping it away from his kids, and he allowed his kids to play with it. They made a gigantic spiderweb type of thing in the garage, they all marveled at it, and then they cleaned it up; freedom, creativity, exploration and more for the cost of a half bundle of twine. I think toddler’s through teenagers hear the word ‘no’ more then anything else, and I think it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m not suggesting letting your kids run the house or going back on your convictions and values because your kids ask, but rather just being more critical of your choices and words when it comes to your kids. When they ask you to play don’t make an excuse. Intentionally rearrange your house so nearly everything your toddler can reach is fair game for him to play with. And when your kids ask you to do crazy, odd, strange, outrageous and weird things in public, ditch the self-image and join them!

Maybe I’m off-base on this one, but I’m probably going to try it out anyways. I’m so eager to learn from my children. I’m ready to acknowledge that 24 years living in this society has probably warped my views of things a little bit, and an innocent child might be able to lead me back to the truth.
I’m planning on writing my own promises to our baby. Not sure what they’ll be yet, and not sure if I’ll be sharing them with everyone, but the intentionality is something I really desire. Can’t wait to see you, little one.

Protecting our Children while Caring for Others

This Morning I received an email asking for advice:

Hello!  You and your wife bought some cloth diapers from me through Craig’s List.  I recognized your name when you were hosting at Nashville Is Talking, then found your personal blog.  Small world, right?
I’ve been reading for a couple of weeks now.  You’ve definitely pricked my suburban conscience.  My family’s not image conscious to begin with, and we do all the comfortable “crunchy” practices like driving an old Volvo, wearing only secondhand clothes, breastfeeding, etc.  Yet I’m aware that I’m lacking in the person-to-person expression of Christ’s love.  I hurry my children past the homeless at the downtown library.  My childlike response to help has been squashed by a parental need to protect my children, to teach them wariness with strange men.  I know you feel fearless now, but there’s a vulnerability you feel when you are a mom out alone with small children.
So I’m asking you for advice!  Can you suggest a safe way for a mom and kids to help the homeless we encounter?  Small bags of portable food?
With thanks,
Eager to Help

Dear Eager to Help,

First of all, let me say thanks for the diapers. We are about six months from being ready to use them, but excited as the time approaches.  I’ll also say I’m anything but fearless right now. As I think about raising a child in this world, I definitly feel a desire to protect and yet teach my children to engage in this world, “in it, but not of it.” I’m honored that you felt compelled to ask me for advice, so without further ado, here it is.
Let’s talk about the fear for a minute. I wrote a little while ago about Guestrooms for Jesus, where I said fear and protecting your family was a lame excuse. I meant it was a lame excuse for inaction, not that protecting your family wasn’t an okay thing to do. In other words, don’t feel guilt about your desire to protect your children, I’m sure that is a God given desire in your heart. We are called to “Love our neighbors,” and I can think of no closer neighbor then family. As you’ve begun to realize though, if this is keeping you from loving other neighbors, particularly those Jesus talks specifically about, the poor, hungry and thirsty, then you probably have room to grow. I know I certainly do. So, what are some practical ideas for you to do to help those in need around you? Let’s start with your first idea.

Gift Bags are a great idea. The Homeless Guy (Nashville’s very own blogger, who you should definitly subscribe to), wrote a wonderful post about what he would suggest you put together for Homeless Gift Bags.  I added my two cents about Gift Bags, with an additional note about money (I really break down the money idea here). Stick a bunch of the bags in the car behind the passenger seat and let your kids help and see that the homeless are not to be feared or shunned, but to be joyously acknowledged as part of your community.

The next idea I have is to start educating yourself a little more on the homeless, particularly in Nashville. The Homeless Guy blog is a good place to start. The other group I would Highly recommend is the Nashville Homeless Power Project, probably the coolest group in Nashville right now. If your Wednesday afternoon’s (1pm at the Downtown Presbyterian Church) are free, check out the Living Room, a discussion group among homeless and “homies.” You can also volunteer with them, but at the least Join their Mailing List. Another great group that isn’t working specifically with homeless, but definitly those on the edge is the YW. They are also a great organization and work specifically with women in need. They’d be great for you to volunteer with. Also, I have helped out with a group called Food Not Bombs, who serve potluck meals every Sunday. If you want to come up on a Sunday and hang out and eat a meal with us about 1:30pm at the Veteran’s Memorial, that would also be a good chance to just meet some folks in a safe environment.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter.  I think far too often we create a dichotomy or a tension where it doesn’t need to be. I think you hinted at one that many of us are quite guilt of: parenting/children – interacting with those in need. Our perception is probably more accurately: Safety of Children – Getting near Dangerous Crazies (does that sound a little more honest?).  The truth is I don’t think these things need to be in tension. I think first of all we need to recognize that “safety” needs to not be our first concern. God doesn’t call us to safe living.  I know lot’s of C.S. Lewis fan’s like to quote this passage from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe referring to Aslan, The Lion:

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

God calls us to be faithful, just like he did to Abraham (almost sacrificed his son and then took his family on a unknown journey to new land), Daniel (remember the lions den?), Paul (went through all sort’s of trouble to share the good news), and even Jesus (they killed the dude).  Now, we aren’t talking about dangling your kids off balconies or anything like that, but we are talking about being faithful to God’s call to care for those in need, and to do it with your children in tow.
And this is where I think we really get to the important part. Too many kids are being raised in “christian” homes where the Christianity that is being modeled is nothing like what we see in the stories of the Bible, but a safe religious practice, that holds personal protection and well being and satisfaction above all other callings in Scripture (which by the way I don’t really see the former in scripture at all).  So, we have whole generations that grow up assuming there is no conflict between their suburban living and the scripture that they read. The Christianity we see modeled today is not the same as that we see lived out in Scripture. 
I really care about protecting my children. But the protection I’m thinking of is a little different. I’m not too scared of scrapped knees, dirty hands, or the stinky breath of someone we’re talking too. I do want to protect my children from the “patterns of this world” and worldly treasure that moth and rust destroy. I want to protect my children from believing in a Christianity that has sold it’s soul to the materialistic, money-hungry, image driven, and earthly-focused society that we live in.

Protect your children, by all means. Just make sure your protecting them from the right things.


The Myth of Redemptive Violence (Avoid It)

Braveheart“The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence.” It was through my reading of Christ’s teachings to “Love your enemies” and the idea of overcoming evil with good, that I began to realize that there must be another road to victory than violence. Quite simply, I found I could not support a culture of war and violence and still claim to follow Christ’s teachings, I could not rationalize it.
After coming to that conclusion I picked up Walter Wink’s book, The Powers That Be, and my eyes were opened to the myth that our society and myself have been indoctrinated with for centuries.  I’ve heard the word’s of others too who have walked this path in an attempt to follow Christ.

Derek Webb sings, in My Enemies are Men Like Me,

peace by way of war
is like purity by way of fornication
it’s like telling someone murder is wrong
and then showing them by way of execution

Dr. King said,

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time — the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts… Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

You should really take the time to read the short article about The Myth of Redemptive Violence. It describes the Babylonian Creation Myth and how it’s violence-centric story is perpetuated today. I’m not just talking about war here, I’m speaking of primarily the media that we expose ourselves to. Think Braveheart and Gladiator, Batman, Lone Ranger, Road Runner and many others:

The psychodynamics’ of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show–the “Tammuz” element, where the hero suffers–actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of self. When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and reestablish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero

As, I think about entering parenthood, I’m struck by the fact that though I have continually acknowledged to myself and others that this myth is a lie and it is dangerous to our culture, I have still chosen to expose myself to plenty of movies that carry this theme.  I’ve decided both in preparation, and probably for personal well being, that I’m going to stop watching movies that carry a redemptive violence theme (for at least a year). This won’t be a hard and fast line, but one I want to consider for the well being of my family. Which means Die Hard, Rocky, and Spider Man will be off my movie viewing list for the year.