Our Children: The Here and Now

Yesterday, my wife Jen wrote about the unseen battle that is fought for our children’s hearts. Today, I’m excited that she is sharing Part 2: “Our Children: The Here and Now“. Hope you enjoy!

As parents, aunts, uncles, coaches, teachers, siblings, neighbors, how often do we find ourselves speaking of children like so: “When Bobby grows up, he is going to be such a catch” or “When Jane get’s married, she is going to be an awesome mom”, or maybe,  “When those kids graduate, they are going to be the great leaders of tomorrow”.

While it is a great thing to see the potential of the future generation, and to hope for their great accomplishments and positive change when they grown up, why is it so easy for us to look upon childhood as a phase in life that is just something to be endured, as something to quickly pass through before we can realize our potential value as adults? Unbeknownst to our consciousness, this mindset believes that we are a people only capable of great faith and value to the kingdom until later in life.

Interestingly enough and against our common logic, Scripture places value on children, the little ones that stand before us here and now. Jesus rebuked his disciples when they tried to keep the children from Him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).  In Psalm 127:3, Solomon reminds us that, “Children are a heritage from the Lord”. Can you imagine the profound blessing of knowing Jesus for a lifetime?

When we look at our own children (or our nieces, nephews, students, neighbors, etc), can you see their hearts right now? Can you describe their passions, spiritual giftings, weaknesses, etc.?

Here is a part of a journal entry I wrote to my girls when Sophia was 2 ½ and Olivia was almost one.

May 8, 2010

Sophia ,
You are sweet and strong. You take time to listen and act carefully—you take notice of others and their feelings. Your heart is full of joy and compassion.  Thank you for loving me so sweetly.

Olivia,
You are full of joy and wonder. You light up at the sight of a smile, you hold us tightly, you giggle often. I believe that God has allowed you to see others in love; He has blessed you with His vision to see into the heart of people. You find goodness. You are quick to act and have no inhibitions!

Know that I love you both so very deeply, and that I will always desire God’s best for you. In all of my shortcomings as your mom, I hope that one day you will be able to say and truly believe that I was a woman who was after God’s heart.

Remember the time when your eyes were full of wonder, head full of imagination, heart full of passions and God-given talents, soul bursting to be seen and heard. Although time, circumstance, and experience have brought us this far, in many ways we are still that same little one.

What does it look like to see children as people that matter right now?

Photo credit: R Mercardo

Our Children: The Battle

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to my amazing wife Jen. Not only is she my better half, and a remarkable stay-at-home-mom, but she also has an incredibly compassionate heart to serve others. Today she shares Part 1 (guest post entitled “Our Children: The Battle“). Be sure to also stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow. Enjoy!

I’ve heard it said that the more children you have, the more you allow things to inadvertently fall to the wayside: The picture album that was kept up to date begins to make its way out of the desk drawer less and less often, the baby clothes that were freshly folded and new with tags get shoved into the Rubbermaid bins labeled, “Hand-me-downs”, the toys that were sanitized on a fairly regular basis now more closely resemble an obnoxious heap of Toys R Us scrap metal, and the baby milestones that we once regarded as the very things that made the earth turn on its axis, now receive a small smile of admiration and a weak, “Oh, isn’t that nice?”.

I believe we can mostly agree that this dwindling enthusiasm can be labeled as part  of human nature. I remember thinking at times during my second pregnancy, “How can I love this baby as much as our first? Will there be enough love, enough attention for both of them?”  I remember how amazed I was to actually experience my love multiply with our second baby girl– a miracle that I believe in a small way, mirrors the profound truth that the Lord loves each and every one of His children so passionately and completely. Although the “newness” of being a first time parent may seem to fade slightly with time, there is such great celebration and joy in our hearts as we welcome the birth of each unique member of our family.

Have you ever pondered how much greater the Father and all of the heavenly hosts rejoice at the birth of a child—of YOUR child? Have you ever wondered what it looks like to see God dance? To hear angels sing praises? To feel Heaven move in celebration of just one small baby?

And quite conversely, have you ever stopped to consider the other forces – the ones sent by the Evil one himself, which are unleashed earthward in that same second of birth? With the impending birth of our third child, never before have I been more aware of the battle that rages on over the souls of our children. There are countless Scriptures we can reference that describe the value that the Lord places on our children.  Dr. Wess Stafford, leader of Compassion International, candidly describes it as so:

At the moment of birth, all heaven stands in breathless anticipation and breaks into shouts of joy and praise. Each child is born into the world loved and full of potential to bring joy to the heart of God. A little flame flickers deep in the child’s being. It reflects a dignity and worth, made in the image of God Almighty.

Meanwhile, Satan and his evil hosts stand ready to pounce and destroy that life as quickly and completely as possible, knowing how that will break the heart of God. All of heaven and hell are present and focused on the newborn life—for vastly different reasons. Both have strategic designs for this little one. (Too Small to Ignore)

In light of this battle, I believe that God reminds us that we are to:

1. Pray. Lift up our children as consistently and fervently as we can and acknowledge that there are forces at work (evident in the pressures of our society and our own heart conditions) that desire to separate our families from the Lord.

2. Remember that we are equipped. God has provided us with all that we need to train up our children… (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

3. Recognize that our time with our children (or any for that matter) is God-ordained. One smile, act of kindness, or encouraging word, can speak life through generations.

How does acknowledging this battle change the way we view our role in the lives of children?

Photo credit: vaaltonen

Celebrate Diversity

Our little family...

One of the most significant memories I have happened when I was on a mission trip to Amsterdam in 2003. During one of our morning group sessions, we were challenged to write down the names of the countries of all the people we had talked to throughout the week. Like many large cities, Amsterdam is swarming with people from all around the world.

After we went around the circle, the total number that the team had talked to far exceeded 100 countries. It was an inspiring revelation to me in that moment that God was the God of all nations.

Fast forward 8 years. Here I am, married with two kids, reminiscing about a time where I felt God showed me something important about his character: He celebrates diversity.

How does that fit into my situation right now? Diversity matters to our family.

Most know (or at least can see from our picture) that my wife and I comes from different ethnic backgrounds. I am half-Dutch, half-Spanish; she is half-African-American, half-Filipino. Thus, our children fit perfectly as spokespeople for the United Colors of Benetton. In this way, we will naturally have to address diversity in our family. We know that one day our children will ask questions, so we want to embrace that even right now.

Here are five ways that we celebrate diversity with our children right now:

1. Be around different people – We want to make it a natural thing that our kids are around different people from different backgrounds. I am thankful that our campus fellowship in college laid the foundation for this so well. It was during those formative years that we learned to participate in and celebrate different cultures.

2. Never talk in absolutes – Eliminate saying things like, “All people from ____ are like this.” In an indirect way, this criticizes and denigrates. We don’t like absolutes in general, so about about we exclude them from this area as well.

3. Get rid of that negative speak – There are certain characteristics (race, physical features, etc.) that people literally have no chance of changing. We want to teach our kids that belittling people is contrary to what our family stands for.

4. Try new things – We love to do new things in general, so I’m grateful this is a natural part of our family functions. We want to participate in new activities, try new foods, and go new places. Our hope is that this will spark curiosity in our children, and let them see first hand that the world is a really big place.

5. Look forward to adoption – Jen and I are certain that the Lord has placed adoption on our hearts as a way to expand our family. As we begin to talk about the subject with our kids in the future, we want them to know that he/she will be a celebrated addition to our family.

In no ways are we/I perfect in this area. Even as the father of a mixed family, I am still learning how to lead in this area. I would love to hear your thoughts. Let’s learn together!

How have you embraced and celebrated diversity in your own life?

Hitting Pause: A Priority Check

Last December, Urban Meyer cited family as the main reason for stepping down as head coach of the University of Florida football team. Even though this news is over two months old, I believe that his core message (from the press conference) is of lasting importance. While I don’t have the same things pulling me in my life that Meyer did, I do feel that I can relate to his situation as a husband, father, and friend.

The challenge for me today is this: what things do I place in front of the relationships that mean the most to me?

We all know the feeling...

As some of you may or may not know, I am in the middle of a job transition. I am leaving the company I’ve only worked for on Friday (almost 7 years) and joining another the middle of next week. To be honest, it’s both scary and exciting! This is an opportunity that I have been waiting for, and am thrilled to be given the chance to succeed in an area I’m truly passionate about (details forthcoming).

With the longer commute and increased responsibilities, I need to ask myself a couple questions: how will this impact the people I love the most (namely my wife and children)? What am I going to do about it?

My wife read me a quote the other day by Michael W. Smith, that I feel is wholly appropriate: “My life isn’t defined by my music. Music is my vocation. My life is characterized by my relationship with God and my family.” While I am far from a professional musician, you get the point. I want to leave a legacy that is marked by Jesus’ call to, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19-20). I want to be remembered for how I invested my time into people, not “things”. I want to pursue relationships, make decisions, and give generously in light of the Kingdom. In five years, will I be saying to myself, “I can’t get that time back”? I sure hope not. Today, I’m evaluating my commitment to God, my wife, and kids. Here are three things that I plan on doing over the course of the next three months:

1. Stay regular with God. Everything funnels through this discipline. The time I spend with God directly impacts the other relationships I place value in.

2. Date my wife. Especially with the new baby coming in a couple months, I want me wife to know that I still cherish uninterrupted time with her. I am committed to taking her out and spending “date” time twice a month, just me and her. Also, a friend of mine suggested “couch time”–the first 10 minutes of my time home after work is dedicated to my wife, where we can just talk on the couch.

3. Engage my children. When I come home from work, I want to try to give them my undivided attention. There will be times later in the evening or the next morning, to check e-mail. Put that blasted phone away! I want to slow down and take time to truly hear them and respond… I want them to know that they matter.

As a disclosure, my family is truly excited about this opportunity for me. My wife is the ultimate “I’m in your corner no matter what” kind of partner. To be honest, it would be hard to do much of anything if it wasn’t for the unbelievable support I get from her every single day. With that being said, I need a gut/motive-check from time to time. My prayer is that, through it all,  I would be intentional to not to sacrifice my work for my family.

How can we live like people matter?

Photo credit: josephleenovak

Environments of Grace

Tony (who has a great blog I follow) shared the following quote on Friday:

Most people know an environment of grace when they see it. They simply point to the results: people feel safe, they grow up, they trust each other, they live authentically, they celebrate each other, they laugh a lot, they produce better. But in some environments, grace is so evident you can feel it from the first…
– The Ascent of a Leader

When I read that quote a few days ago, one question kept ringing over and over in my head: If I were to be unknowingly observed, what would the analysis of my life be?

Do I lead a family that lives out a demonstrated faith?
Do I foster healthy communication of trust and truth?
Do I create environments of grace?

When I stop and think about it, oftentimes I fail to live out those things. I discipline my kids because my patience is thin. I shortchange engaging with my wife because I want to watch some television. I avoid the coworker because “he always talks about himself”. I am not thoughtful because I want to do the things that I want to do.

My selfish nature creeps in and reiterates the lie that its all about me. This is sobering because, in the end, I am called “to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with my God” (Micah 6:8).  When I do that, the truth rises to the surface: it’s about God, not me. With that verity in place, the environments that I create will be more inviting, safe and upward-focused.

The challenge for me today is this: in my home and in my work, if I take steps toward building environments of grace, the heart of the matter will come to the surface. That being, people matter.

What can you do today to create an environment of grace in your work or your home?

A Letter to a Young Dustin Valencia

Thanks to some inspiration from new friends Ben and Kevin, I decided to participate in writing a letter to my younger self. In this case, this letter goes out to to my senior year, high school self. Enjoy!

The infamous beans picture.

Dear Dustin,

You are a senior in high school right now, which means two things: you thought Gladiator was the best movie of all time (not a bad thing) and you thought at one point Tom Green was funny (bad thing). To help you decipher what you’re about to experience next in life, here are a few tips that I thought you may find beneficial:

  • For the love of pete, please stop wearing white undershirts underneath every article of clothing. No one thinks its cool.
  • Embrace your inner ska-head. It was something that set you apart.
  • Try not to fall asleep so much in your high school classes. You’ll soon learn about the great beauty of mid-day naps in college.
  • Be more decisive. Form opinions. People pleasing is tiring.
  • Be careful trying to run down your parent’s basement stairs as fast as you can. That is, unless you want to fall on your face and have a right foot the size of a watermelon for a month.
  • Cherish your time at Cornerstone music festival that summer. You’ll make lasting memories and hear lots of good music. Plus, you’ll take a wicked sweet “beans picture”.
  • People (read: family) will make fun of you for spending most weekends at friends houses doing “LAN Parties“. Embrace these times. You’ll make lasting friends and learn a ton about computers (which will make sense later in life).
  • Don’t limit yourself to what others may expect of you. Step out of that box. You are unique and God wants to use you in ways you wouldn’t think possible.
  • Don’t stop playing ultimate frisbee. You’ll look like a tool when your dorm mates in college ask you to play a game and you stink at “tossin’ the B”.
  • Tell your mom and dad thank you (often) for your graduation gift. You’ll wear that guitar out over the next year. It’ll will usher you into experiencing worship in a new and fresh way.

If you had to write out a note to your younger self, what would you include?

Imposter

“What is your biggest fear?”

Not sure I could pinpoint my biggest, but I know certain ones seem to surface more frequently than others. For example: Will I be able to always provide for my family? Am I raising my children the way God wants me to? Am I walking in the right direction?

In my men’s group last month, I was able to re-read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. One line in particular stuck out:

This is man’s deepest fear: to be exposed, to be found out, to be discovered as an imposter, and not really a man. (pg45)

Exposed.

In many ways, I feel like that appropriately summed up my feelings: that one day I am going to be exposed as a failure–specifically, a failure at being a husband, a father, a son. At times this fear feeds lies that one day I won’t be able to provide for and defend the ones who are the most dear to me: my family. Quite honestly, I do not think I am the only one who struggles with these feelings — we stand on the front lines of  a battleground with the Enemy. These fears, acted out in my life (ie. essentially choosing to believe the lies of failure, etc. over God’s truth of not only who He says I am, but also what He promises to those who call Him Father) are expressed in my people pleasing flesh, my desire to prove my worth, and my inclination to play it safe.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)

When that fear creeps in, I want to boldly clinch that verse in my fist and remember that comfort is found in the way God leads and guides my life. When I’m scared that I’m going to mess up, I can trust in Him. When I feel like what I do doesn’t matter, I can rely on His help. When I can’t discern what path to take, I can hold His hand.

How does that Eldredge quote resonate with you?

Photo credit: justinlee89

The Unrecognized Hero

This VM commercial went viral a few days before the Super Bowl. It aired yesterday during the second quarter, but it had well over 11 million views as of Saturday evening. Crazy!

It seems to pull all the right strings: clever and original idea, kid in a Vader costume, and some real-life tension of trying to do something and it not working out. To top it off, Dad comes to the rescue!

What is heartwarming about this brief, 1-minute story is that the father is the unrecognized hero.

In the end, as parents, will we be okay with becoming unrecognized heros to our children?

We do many things to raise our children: We train. We equip. We discipline. We demonstrate. We model. We love. What if, down the road, we don’t necessarily get credit for all of this? What if our “sacrifice” is never acknowledged? Will we be okay with that?

In a selfish way, I want the beneficiary (my children) to see that the benefactor (me) is actively working in their lives. The fact of the matter is this: maybe, just maybe, it won’t be until later on in life where they see the positive impact that Christ (through me) has made in their lives.

I recognize, as a parent, that the majority of our “work” is camouflaged, behind the scenes. The more I think about it, that may be the best place for us to be–in the wings and out of the way, so the glory can be given to the One who deserves it.

When I examine our family right now, here are a few examples of the “work” that Jen and I cherish:

  1. Serving others – allowing them to be present in the times we serve others: having them come along as we bring meals to friends/families, committing to pray for others as a family, etc.
  2. Filling our house with Scripture – constantly reminding them that God’s word is powerful and transforming: writing scripture on their bathroom mirror, making magnetic refrigerator cards, surrounding them with Bible verses put to songs, reading the Word daily, etc.
  3. Being present – understanding that the investment of our time in our marriage and children is one of the most powerful, and unspoken indicators of our faith: being available to seize teachable moments, share in laughter, capture memories, and model discipline.

Do you have an “unrecognized hero” story? If this was you, would you be okay with that?

Yes, I Yelled At My Daughter

It happened last night during dinner.

My wife was at one of her yoga classes and I was by myself with the kids for a couple hours during dinner. Our oldest, Sophia, has been going through this phase lately where she’s hit or miss during mealtimes. Sometimes she is crazy about green beans. Other times she abhors them. Quite honestly, it has been frustrating.

And then it happened; I raised my voice and said something to the effect of, “Sophia, if you do not eat your food, we are done!”. It wasn’t that the message I communicated was wrong; it was my tone and the manner in which it was delivered. All of a sudden, I was condescending, harsh, and unforgiving.

Certainly it wasn’t a moment I was proud of.

Nobody's perfect...

Lately, God has been reminding me about the grand importance of speaking life into my children’s life. In an opposite-kind-of-way, this was how he showed me this last night.

In one split second I crush her delicate spirit. I was immediately convicted to ask for her forgiveness. I did and it was a humbling moment–a brief story I don’t plan on forgetting.

I can speak life into her by asking for forgiveness. It demonstrates humility. It admits a shortcoming. It places others above myself.

I want to always remember to affirm, encourage and admonish my children. In the same vein, I also want to remember to show them it is okay to be mad, upset and frustrated (in healthy ways).

In the end, I want my life to communicate that their daddy is far from perfect, yet points to a heavenly Father who is infinitely perfect.

Have you had to ask forgiveness from your child? What happened?

Photo credit: laurenbratton

Phil Dunphy, Yo!

I love Modern Family. It’s a refreshing comedy that details the everyday life, struggles and wins of a family that despite their obvious differences, choose to stand together. My wife Jen gets a kick out of Cam and Manny. Me personally, I’m a Phil guy. He’s your typical suburban, real estate dad that loves his wife and kids. He’s clumsy, sensitive and is always trying to fit in.

To be quite honest, when I’m with my family I feel like I channel Phil all the time. What is my “Dunphy-ism”? My wife would say that I’m goofy even though I’m not trying to be. For example, she laughs at the way I dance with our girls. Apparently I’m like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, but minus the rhythm and swanky hair. So, basically I’m Chris Farley. Want proof? Check this out.

While it’s fun to goof off and relate to your kids in in creative ways, we must not forget the the great responsibility we have as parents to speak life into our children. What does this look like? For me lately it has involved extending grace to my 3 year old. As her father I want to communicate God’s truths to her right now, even in her young age. I’ve also been reminded lately about how God views my children. They are more than the nicknames we call them; they were created with a purpose, to live a life that brings Him glory.

What is a “Dunphy-ism” that you can relate to? In what ways do you ‘speak life’ into your children?