Author Archive : Reggie Joiner

Celebrate Uniqueness

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Photo by Reggie Joiner

Who I am is determined by a combination of things like:

My past experiences
My significant relationships
My personal interests
My spiritual beliefs
My personality traits
My physical characteristics
My natural talents

Each one of these things plays a role in shaping your child’s identity. Sure, there may be a host of people who have things in common with your child in each of these areas, but no one has the same combinations as your individual son or daughter. So, as parents, these issues become a way for us to think about the uniqueness of each of our children, and to help them begin a healthy journey toward understanding who they are. Here are a few suggestions to create an atmosphere in your home that celebrates the value of uniqueness.

Reinforce the Idea of Uniqueness Verbally
How often do you actually say something that encourages a sense of uniqueness in your children? It may seem strange but when my kids were younger, I would say things like, “Sarah, I just want you to know that you are my favorite second-born daughter.” She would reply with a sigh, “Dad, I’m your only second-born daughter!” I would smile and say, “Exactly.” There are a number of ways you can be intentional about saying things to your kids that add to their sense of uniqueness. Be specific. For example instead of saying, “You are a good writer,” you might say something like, “I can tell by your writing that you think in a very detailed way.”

Capture Significant Memories
Your past really does influence your understanding of who you are. Memory is a powerful force. There are significant moments that should be highlighted through photography, symbols, journals, etc. An author friend of mine recently talked about how he decided to collect things to decorate his home that actually reminded him of specific defining moments in his past. It makes sense when you remember that your past experiences are part of what makes your story unique.

Share Family Stories to give a Sense of their Unique Heritage
When my kids were younger, I heard a psychologist talk about how critical it was for children to hear stories about their parents and grandparents. He explained how it helped them contextualize their lives, and find a sense of connection and identity from the bigger story of their family. There are a number of ways to collect family stories. One way is to start a tradition on family holidays to have relatives tell stories about you and your parents from their perspective. It gives your children a unique view of you and themselves they would not otherwise have.

Expose them to Different Cultures and People Groups
If you live in the country, visit the city. If you live in the city, visit the country. Develop relationships with neighbors or associates who come from different ethnic backgrounds. Eat in a restaurant where the owners are from another culture and speak a different language. Ask them creative questions to find out something interesting about their culture. Watch documentaries together that broaden their understanding of how other people live. Teach them to respect the diversity around them.

Experiment with a Variety of Activities
Again, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to continue to help your kids discover their strengths and passion. It’s okay for your kids to try out a number of things before they find the things they love to do and what that are naturally good at doing. When they are young, let them experience different kinds of camps, play different sports, experiment with art and music to discover their passions. I know parents who have let their older kids spend the day with different friends at work so they can get a better understanding of a variety of occupations. Remember, you are helping them narrow their focus to the few things that they will ultimately invest their life.

What other ideas do you have to teach kids about uniqueness?

Faith at Risk

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

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Most moms and dads are ready to fight the battle for their children’s safety and future as soon as they are born. Parents will buckle them into car seats that fit like plastic straitjackets, construct beds and play zones with prison bars, hook their arms to an expandable leash to walk through the mall, and install video surveillance systems so their children can be monitored from every room. Parents are programmed to protect and provide. We feel responsible to make sure we have the kind of boundaries that will keep children safe.

Over time parents become convinced their primary job is protection, so we make rules, set limits, and put up fences because that is what we are supposed to do. We are parents. We will insulate, isolate, and segregate our kids from everything we think might be a threat. It is easy for us to become more concerned about their safety than we do their faith. It is possible to sacrifice the very things they need to learn and the things they should experience by our zeal to protect them.

But living this way and parenting this way demands the question: What happens one day when they are on their own? When they leave for college?  When they enter the working world? When they get married? When they are challenged to sacrifice for the sake of others?

They were meant to be a part of an adventurous story. This is a mission that requires them to engage with culture in order to rescue a generation of hurting and disconnected people. If you are a leader or parent remember this:

The family and church were not primarily designed to protect children, but to set them free to demonstrate God’s love to a broken world.

Looking Back

Thursday, January 30th, 2014
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photography by Mark Wilson

This is going to sound strange, but I do wonder sometimes if God got it backwards when it comes to parenting. I’m not really questioning God’s wisdom, so don’t respond with a super-spiritual answer to correct my logic, just let me think out loud for a few minutes. Why did I start out as a dad during the busiest and hardest years of my life?

I became a parent like a lot of you, while I was still trying to figure out who I was, build a career, manage a minimal income, establish a healthy marriage, etc. It seems like it would make more sense to find my identity, build a strong marriage, retire and then have kids. Now I have more margin in my time and finances. Back then, I was always running out of everything. I just think I would be a much better parent now than I was in my twenties. I actually hear young parents giving advice to other young parents sometimes and think, “that’s never going to work.” I start to interrupt and then just think, “you will figure this out.”  I really do wish I knew then what I know now. Not that I have all the answers. . .I just think I would be a smarter dad. So here’s some advice I would give to myself if I were starting over as a dad:

Listen more, talk less.
(I can’t count the college students who tell me they don’t feel like their parents ever really listened.)

Don’t “send” your kids to bed, put them in bed.
(You only have a short window of time when they are young enough to want you to tuck them in.)

Ask better questions.
(Learn to shift from performance questions to heart questions.)

Guard Saturdays to create family traditions.
(There are a little over 350 Saturdays between the time your kids are 1st grade and when they become teenagers, then Saturdays change forever.)

Don’t sign up your kids for everything.
(We tend to make our kids experientially rich, but relationally poor.)

Play games.
(Have fun together, build memories playing board games or card games, etc.)

Don’t take things too serious.
(What you think matters right now will probably not matter as much as you think it does later. What does matter is what you communicate during stressful or dramatic moments.)

Never punish anyone relationally.
(Don’t withdraw your relationship to make someone feel bad for something they have done wrong.)

Do chores together.
(Kids who work with their parents have a better work ethic and tend to be more responsible.)

Say “I love you” everyday.
(It’s just a healthy habit you can never start too early.)

Apologize often.
(You might as well admit when you do something wrong, everyone knows it anyway.)

I could keep going here. . .What advice would you give yourself if you had to do it all over again?

Growing Knowledge

Monday, January 13th, 2014

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Every year, two professors from a small college in Wisconsin publish a “Mindset” list to remind us that every freshman has a completely different knowledge base than previous generations. Maybe you’ve seen the list. For example, this year, the class of 2017 has. . .

never had the chicken pox,
only known two presidents,
never needed directions, just an address,
always known there are “five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes” in a year.

The Mindset List reminds us that knowledge is always changing. When we narrowly define knowledge as the dictionary does, we forget that facts and information can only take us so far. What really matters—what really tests our knowledge—is what we do with what we know.

As a parent, we navigate that journey as we build into our kids an understanding of the world around us. One of the ways we can do that best is to think about the destination before we get too far along on the journey.

Roll the years forward. Imagine the end of your child or teen’s formative years. What does it look like after he or she has become an adult? What are the most important things that we want our son or daughter to walk away with and KNOW once they leave our home and head for college and beyond?

With that end in mind, we define knowledge a little differently, in a more active sense. For us, knowledge is “discovering something new so you can be better at what you do.”

Kids are naturally curious. They are wired at birth to question, explore, and discover what they don’t know. If we are not careful about how we handle learning, kids can grow up and grow out of being interested in discovering new things. The future of your children is not only linked to what they know, but to their desire to keep learning.

Whether we realize it or not, adults have the ability to turn the discovery dial up or down in a kid’s life.

If you want to turn it up, you need to become intentional about looking for ways to intrigue them with new ideas and insights about life.

Keep the story in history.

Keep the mystery in science.

Keep the application in math.

And when it comes to spiritual issues, be careful you don’t define God in such narrow terms that He’s no longer as huge and miraculous as He really is.

What are some ways we can help our kids value and get excited about learning?

What Every Kid Wants

Monday, December 2nd, 2013
Boy with plane

Photograph by Reggie Joiner

It’s really simple. Every kid wants to have fun. I was reminded of that fact last week when kids showed up for Thanksgiving at my house. We had worked on decorating, arranging enough food to feed twenty plus adults, and creating the right playlist of classic holiday tunes. Then at the last minute, we ran by and picked up a few age appropriate toys for the only two children that would be present. One was two and one was seven. I set up two individual small tables with a couple of items that I figured would probably be ignored.

I just have this basic philosophy that whenever a kid walks into any home, he or she is asking the question, “What is there fun to do here?” It will probably be followed at some point by another question, “What is here that I like to eat?” By the way, just in case you don’t know, most kids don’t like turkey. The point is if you are the adult responsible for hosting an event in your home, you are a child’s only hope not be trapped in a boring space—one of any child’s greatest fears. Maybe that’s because several hours of football and meaningful conversations seems like an eternity for a seven-year-old.

So it was exciting to see the eyes of a two-year-old light up when he spotted the table full of cars across the room. It confirmed what I suspect is true about every child. They are hard-wired to play. And the one thing they will probably remember about your house, about your holidays, about their time with you will have to do with fun. Am I over-simplifying? Not at all. Kids are not that complicated. They want to have fun. And it’s the gauge they will ues to measure. . .

Church
School
Uncles
And your house.

It’s really all about the fun. I’ll even make another suggestion. You should put this somewhere so you can remember it.

If it’s not fun, kids will not want to be there very long.

This principle actually applies to every life stage of your kids. It’s the joy factor that makes your home attractive or not attractive. As your kids grow up, you should work harder and harder to keep plenty of laughter and fun in your home environment. That’s why fun should be just as much a priority for adults as it is for kids.

Creating a powerful play history with kids could be the most important thing you do to nurture your relationship with them.

They will remember the fun. Ask one seven-year-old what he remembers about thanksgiving at our house this year. I think he will probably say something about the legos not the turkey.

What are some of your best ideas to keep things fun for kids who show up at your house during the holidays?

Every Kid Needs A Tribe

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Painting by Hannah Joiner – There Is Always a Place For You

It’s been one year since it happened.
I didn’t write about it, because I wasn’t sure how.
I still don’t know exactly what to say.
We did everything we knew to do:

Found her a place to live.
Helped her land a job.
Gave her a new start.
Tried to find her good friends.

But after a year, she moved back to New York.
Then, last November we got the letter.
She sent it by mail.
She knew it would be too late for us to do anything by the time we got it.

Here’s what she wrote:

11/14/12

I just wanted to say sorry. I’m forever grateful for everything you guys tried to do for me.
I just can’t do it any more. I love you all and will miss you very much.

Reggie – I’ll put in the order for some custom Orange wings for you when you get here.

Lots of love, I regret that it’s ending like this.

A——-

She was only 22.

I’m no expert. I’m not a professional therapist.
I don’t really have answers.
But all the therapists suggested the same thing.
They repeatedly said:

“If she doesn’t find a community,
if she doesn’t get connected to others,
if she doesn’t find a support group of people who will do life with her,
she probably won’t survive.”

We only knew her for a couple of years, and we tried. I have relived those years over and over in my mind, and I’m not sure what we could have changed. I just think years of messy experiences kept her from letting anyone get too close, and maybe we were just too late. The tragedy is that she was a fun, savvy, smart, self-sufficient, talented individual that could never really believe anyone else cared about her. She never really felt like she belonged anywhere. I know she was lonely, because she admitted it once in a vulnerable moment. She fought hard to win for at least a decade, but she just got tired of fighting.

So on this anniversary of her death, I would just like to make a simple request:

  • Get serious about giving someone you know a place to belong.
  • Become more intentional about helping kids get connected to others.
  • As a parent, realize your kids will need other people in their life besides just you.
  • Pay attention to the kids or students around you who feel awkward, lonely, uncomfortable.

I usually don’t get too concerned when loneliness happens occasionally.
Temporary solitude can actually be a character builder in your children. It can help a kid develop a sense of empathy toward others who are lonely. It can teach them to value their significant relationships.
As long as it happens occasionally, loneliness doesn’t usually have a long-term effect because. . .

Kids are resilient.
Kids are optimistic.
Kids tend to believe they will ultimately find a place to belong.
So, they keep moving until they land somewhere.

But the point is everyone has a need to be known by someone.

Our drive to belong is powerful.
It is the reason. . .

people take showers.
men stopped wearing leisure suits in the seventies.
synchronized swimming has fans.
Tom Hanks apologized to a soccer ball named Wilson.

We are all trying desperately to fit in somewhere.

And not belonging can be devastating if. . .
the loneliness is consistent.
the isolation is frequent.
the rejection is recurrent.

If you grow up without a tribe, it can really complicate things. And the complications of not belonging over time can seriously impair the future of a child.

Stanford Professor, Gregory Walton, claims,
“Isolation, loneliness and low social status can harm a person’s subjective sense of well-being, as well as his or her intellectual achievement, immune function and health.”

It’s just another reason we wrote the book Playing for Keeps.
We think its time to get serious about things kids need over time that will affect their adult life. Our experience through the years has convinced us that tribes over time give kids the best chance to find a healthy place to belong.

 

This week, we will continue to talk about how Tribes Matter in the life of kid. I you want to follow more on the conversation on the 6 Things that Matter in the life of a kid, start here and PLAY FOR KEEPS!

The Secret of Superman

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

superboy (1 of 1)

When I was kid, I was obsessed with Superman. Seriously! I still remember the day my parents handed me a box from Sears and Roebuck that contained a red cape, blue tights with a red-and-yellow “S” shield on the chest. When I put it on, something magical happened. It transformed me from a shy six-year-old to a super hero with unique powers.

I was more powerful than my dad’s parked car.

I could leap tall fences with a single bound.

I was faster than our speeding fox terrier.

Looking back, I am absolutely positive that I could jump higher, run faster, and do more whenever I put on that suit. That was the year I got in trouble with my mom for running across the roof of our house in my red cape and underwear. It was just one of those days when I had to get suited up fast, so I left the tights off and just went with the cape. And don’t ask me how I got up on the roof. You should know. I flew of course. At least that’s what I remember.

I don’t actually recall when I stopped believing in Superman, but his story did convince me of something that is true.

Good will ultimately win over evil.

It’s ironic that the story of Superman was created in 1938 by two high school students in Cleveland Ohio. Superman literally showed up in the nick of time. It just happened to be the same year, Hitler appointed himself as the supreme commander of the armed forces of Germany and set the stage for the most horrific war the world would ever know.

It’s intriguing that while nations were drawn into a world war that would threaten their existence, a fictional story of a superhero would entertain the imagination of a generation to suggest that good will somehow always prevail. I guess you should just never underestimate the power of a good story.

The point is the stories you tell to your kids every week really matter.

Why do you think. . .

Frodo in Lord of the Rings

Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia

and a boy named Harry have such an appeal to the imagination of kids?

Because they echo an aspect of an ancient narrative that God put into motion at the beginning of time.

They remind us of

. . . the struggle between good and evil.

. . . the existence of a supernatural and miraculous power.

. . . the potential to be personally restored and transformed.

The right story can inspire.

The right story can incite faith.

The right story can give hope.

If you you want to change the way kids and teenagers see this world, then make sure you give them stories over time.

That’s why we like to tell parents that stories over time = perspective.

Everybody loves a good story.
You latch on to someone who is going against the odds.
You identify with their struggle to push through.

Stories are powerful. Especially when they reflect God’s story.

So do whatever you can to amplify the best stories around you.

Read them.
Watch them.
Tell them.
Create them.
Write them.
Illustrate them.
Video them.
Live them.
Collect them.

They can make life fuller, faith deeper, hope stronger.

So, what if I was never able to fly? There’s a secret I’ll always know because of Superman.

Good wins in the end.

This week, we will continue to talk about how Stories matter in the life of a kid. Follow the rest of the conversation on Playing For Keeps as Reggie, Kristen, and others talk about the 6 things every kid needs over time. You can start with the first part of the series about how Time Matters.  

Dogs Over Time = Devotion

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Photograph by Sarah Joiner

Last Friday marked another milestone in our family of adult children. My middle daughter Sarah graduated this weekend from art school with a degree in ‘Image.’ (A focus in photography and videography as you probably guessed). I think her dream job would be to spend the rest of her life taking pictures of people’s pets. I keep trying to explain that animals will probably not pay the bills, but she has an authentic love and appreciation for any breed of canines.

You have to admit, dogs have a unique ability to make you feel like you matter when no one else in the world seems to care. They are confidential, uncritical and constant. I have watched all my kids grow up with dogs as faithful companions. There were times I got the sense that those dogs knew things I would never find out. A good dog over time can show you what devotion looks like. It’s interesting how the right pooch can seem to meet an intrinsic need that people have to feel loved.

Maybe that’s because we are all created to need LOVE. That means the kids and teenagers around you were also designed to love and be loved. So, you are in a unique position to demonstrate the incredible thing that LOVE over TIME can really do in the life of a kid.

That’s why LOVE over TIME happens to be the best strategy to help kids know they matter. When you love them consistently. When you show up in their life week after week to demonstrate they are a priority to you. When you love them faithfully in spite of their behavior or their performance.

LOVE over TIME does something amazing. Love over TIME is the best way to give a child WORTH. And here’s something else to consider:

Maybe love matters more in the life of a kid than it does in the life of an adult.

This past year, I had two friends both take their lives. One was 23. One was 48. They both shared a common dilemma. They didn’t know how to love themselves. They were both smart, attractive, determined people who tried really hard at life. But something was broken when they were young that stacked the odds against them. I’m not qualified to explain how or why.

But here’s a point to consider. Kids need to learn to love themselves while they’re kids. Kids desperately need adults who will love them in a way that will convince them that they are worth something when they are young. If kids don’t feel loved when they are young, they may never love themselves in healthy way. And if they never learn to love themselves, they may ultimately self-destruct.

So, the way you love kids while they’re kids can dramatically affect their future.
That’s why we need more adults to step it up and Play for Keeps.

It’s time to get serious about loving the children around you.

Most research seems to suggest the younger the recipient, the more powerful the impact. So prove to them that they are loved while you have the chance.

And also, keep this in the back of your mind: the window of time in their life as kids and teenagers is a critical opportunity for us to give them the sense of worth and value they will need to face life as adults. If you are showing up in the life of kid or teenager each week, then what you are doing is extremely important – just remember how you love them now will affect how they feel loved later.

When it comes to love, if we are playing for keeps, then every time you see a puppy playing with a child remember what love over time can do.

Follow the rest of the conversation on Playing For Keeps as Reggie, Kristen, and others talk about the 6 things every kid needs over time. You can start with the first part of the series about how Time Matters.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will continue to talk about how kids need Love, Words, Stories, Tribes, and Fun OVER TIME!

No Two Are Alike – Part 2

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Years ago, I watched a documentary about sibling rivalries in which it explored how many siblings become the “black sheep” of a family simply because they couldn’t measure up to the way another sibling looked or behaved. So they subconsciously charted a course that was the opposite. In many cases, that kind of comparison can be devastating.

Comparing kids to an ideal can happen unintentionally because your body language, interest, approval and attitude may be communicating to one child, “you’re getting it right” and to another “you’re not.”

Also, remember that forcing kids into a mold may seem to be working when they are young, but later it could backfire in a devastating ways.

I’m glad I get the privilege of hanging out with a lot of college students and young adults. They have taught me that “turning out” can look very different for different people.

The way they connect to God is different.
The way they relate to others is different.
The way they express their passion in life is different.

Let me make this more specific.

If I introduced you to some of the best Christian young college and adult leaders. . .

Some are thinkers, some are doers.
Some are theologians, some are activists.
Some like preppy clothes, some look bohemian.
Some are clean cut, some wear tattoos.
Some are Baptists, some are Episcoples, some are non-denominational.
Some are democrat, some are republican.
Some are disciplined, some are impulsive.
Some are structured, some are unstructured
Some are teachers, some are artists
Some have private daily devotionals, some worship randomly and freely.
Some like a big church, some like a small church, some don’t really like their church.
Some prefer a small community of faith with a few people they trust.
Some lean toward traditional style of worship, some lean toward a contemporary style.
Some are conservative, some are progressive.
Some drink, some don’t.
Some share their faith boldly, some share their faith quietly.

So which ones turned out right? Oh,  I’m sure you can cherry pick the list and show me which characteristics you prefer. But then again that could be evidence that you are holding on a little to tightly to your picture of how you want your kids to turn out.

My experience has been that there are a lot of great young Christian leaders who took very different paths. That helps me remember as a parent, during moments when one of my children went a different direction than what I had wanted, expected, or anticipated, that being a parent isn’t about my kids turning out according to my picture. It’s about something much bigger.

No Two Alike

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Photo by Sarah Joiner

I remember discovering a book when my four kids were young that helped me understand something about how kids should turn out. The author had interviewed a group of young adults that had exceptional characteristics. He wanted to find out what their parents had done to help them become such quality individuals.

So he asked these ideal kids a series of questions about their parents and made a list of characteristics that all their parents had in common. Then he wrote a book to reveal the specific list of things every parent should do if they hoped to raise kids who “turn out ” like these kids.

I obviously read it–because I wanted to be a better parent. In the middle of the book, something occurred to me. So I called up the author and asked this question, “Did you interview their brothers and sisters too?”

He replied, “What do you mean?”

I said, “I was just wondering if the same list of things these parents did to raise their ideal kid worked on ALL of their kids?”

There was a pause before he explained, “I only interviewed the kids who turned out a certain way. I didn’t interview the kids who I didn’t think turned out right.”

That’s when I started asking more questions, “So what do you mean by “turn out right” anyway? And what if the other siblings didn’t turn out right? Doesn’t that mean if these parents did the same things for all their kids, and some didn’t turn out the way they hoped, then sometimes it just didn’t work?”

Yes, I overanalyze.

And I do have a problem with skepticism.

But parenting is not a science or a formula.

Here’s something to consider.

Maybe the goal is not for your kids to turn out right, or even to turn out the way you have pictured for them to turn out. Maybe your goal should be to help your kids turn out the way they were designed to be. Maybe one of the most important things to learn as a parent is how each of your children are wired a little different. And that’s okay.

Your job is to do whatever you can to help them discover their own personal attributes and find their specific calling. That may also actually mean you treat them each a little differently and not the same.

But on this point, I hope you will trust me: Your children will probably not turn out exactly the way you expect them to. And if you are trying to push them into a specific mold or conform them to a picture of how you think they should be, you could be setting them up to feel like they will never measure up.