Skip to content

Sometimes the Truth Hertz

Car Rental — Mountain Travel Symposium

If you’ve been reading or watching the news, you’re probably aware that Hertz has filed for bankruptcy. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about this. It opened with this very insightful sentence: The coronavirus has been the proverbial tide going out, exposing who’s swimming naked.

The bankruptcy comes as a shocker to most of us who use rental cars in our travels. Hertz is, after all, a 102-year-old company that began “as a fleet of 12 Ford Model-Ts in Chicago and helped pioneer the rental-car business.” At its 2014 peak, Hertz’s market value exceeded $14 billion. I’d say that was solid! But over the past few years, it hovered around $2 billion. And these days, it’s way not there. The threat of bankruptcy sent it below $500 million. That’s not solid. And 2014 wasn’t that long ago!

I’m not an economist, so I’m not qualified to speculate on what the future might look like for Hertz, if there’s any future at all for it. But from what I’ve read, the slide and fall isn’t surprising to the financial community. It happened in a few years (6), but not over night. And not in one big cataclysmic collapse. Poor leadership and management decisions caught up in a relatively short time. Looking through the rear view mirror, even someone as uneducated in finance as I am can see that the end was predictable.

On one level, the Coronavirus put Hertz over the edge. But on another level, it was only the catalyst for what was probably inevitable because of poor leadership and bad decisions at the corporate level.

If you’re interested in more details and a pretty good assessment, you can read the article in the Wall Street Journal here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/hertz-was-already-in-terrible-shape-the-pandemic-finished-it-off-11590434631

So why am I writing about Hertz in a Marriage and Parenting blog? Simple. Because the Hertz story is similar to all the marriages and families I’ve seen crash and burn in the 46 years I’ve been in ministry. I can’t think of a single one that happened in one big event, over night. All of them had been crashing for a long time, even though they didn’t seem to show it. By the time we smelled the smoke, it was too late for most of them. The spiral had begun many decisions before we saw the crash. And when the crash happened, there was lots of hurt and damage to lots of people.

In my marriage counseling, I generally see couples somewhere between 6 weeks to 6 years too late. By the time a couple comes to see me, they’re usually already in deep yogurt. Usually only one of the spouses really wants to come in for counseling. The other comes under some duress. Either they felt they had no choice or they come so that they can say they did all they could when the whole thing finally ends.

The scenario is generally disappointing. “Fix us,” is usually the theme. More often, it’s “Fix them.” Because they’re the problem. If they could snap out of it, we’d be good. So snap them out of it. Me? Oh, I’m not the problem. They are.

You probably already know it, but in case you didn’t get the memo yet, it doesn’t work that way. I can’t fix anybody’s marriage. I can’t snap anybody out of it.

Virtually every mental health issue is worse across the board than before the Covid outbreak. Some are disturbingly worse. More suicide attempts and successes. More violence. More depression. More anxiety and panic. And more marriages are in trouble today after close to 80 days of “Stay At Home” than ever before.

Here’s my theory for why this is. Intense stress will always seek a weak spot. And when it finds it, it will expose existing weaknesses and issues. Ala Hertz’s crash and burn.

So what do you do about the weaknesses this stress has exposed? I’ve read about two or three approaches. One is to ignore them and just make the best you can of a bad situation. This approach subscribes to the “This, too, shall pass” philosophy. Oddly, for lots of things, this is true. Often, it’s not a great way to go with marriage and family, though.

Another way is to make your weaknesses irreverent. This is one that gets a lot of print in business and organizational literature. The concept is that you work to leverage your strengths and work from them so that your weaknesses just don’t matter. I had a guy once tell me, “Go with your strengths and bag your weaknesses.” There’s some reasonable logic in this. In many business settings it works well. In my experience, though, not so much in marriage and family life.

The third way I’m familiar with is to address your weaknesses and do what you can to strengthen them. This method costs more effort and investment than the other two. In my opinion, it has a better chance of working out well in marriage and family life.

There’s a whole book in this idea. I’ll only unpack a little bit of it here, though. Starting with the fact that you can’t address something you haven’t identified or can’t identify.

Lots of the couples I work with in counseling know they don’t like their marriage, and that they’re getting more and more alienated from each other, and more and more hurt and hurtful toward each other, but they haven’t really identified the problem. They know they’re driving each other crazy, but they can’t really get much further than accusing each other of various crimes and misdemeanors in the relationship. These accusations may have real substance. They may have actually have been committed. But they’re generally not the problem. They’re expressions of the problem.

The starting point for me as a counselor is to help people identify the issues that are behind the stress fractures they’re experiencing. I do my best to not tell them what these are, but to help them discover them for themselves. This takes lots of patience on their part and mine. And it takes the work of the Holy Spirit to bring light to dark areas. This is why I like being a Pastoral Counselor. I don’t have to beat around the bush and hope and pray that the client will bring it up so I can speak into it. I can start there, unrestricted.

If you’ve discovered stress fractures in your marriage, I suggest you consider getting the help of a godly and wise counselor who is able to address the spiritual side as well as the psychological side of your life. Getting another set of eyes and ears on your situation, and having the careful guidance of a mature believer to help you identify your stress fractures and give them names could be the best first step for you to address the issues that stress has exacerbated, and then move toward addressing them so as to strengthen the weaknesses.

There are tons of good resources for this process available to you today. Books by the ten’s of thousands. Some of them are even good. There are DVDs and Internet streaming and podcasts and blogs. Many of them are good and helpful. You can’t just type in “marriage help” into your browser and take the first ones that come up, though. I don’t think I’d even say to go with a web search of “Christian marriage help.” Internet searches can be pretty indiscriminate and some things that report themselves to be Christian aren’t. So you have to be wise and careful. But when you connect with good resources – and for me this means ones that are rooted in biblical philosophy and practice – they can help you make great progress toward addressing the things that are holding you back in your marriage and family.

I’ve already used up all my words for this installment, but next time I’ll give you my list of go-to resources for figuring out how to identify and address the stress fractures that Covid-19 and the lock down may have exposed.

Smart Phones pt. 2

Caution Pattern Stock Photos, Images & Photography | Shutterstock

The irony isn’t lost on me.  I’m writing about the dangers of too much screen time while using the medium I’m using requires you to log in screen time to read it.  How oxymoronic.

In Part 1 of Smart Phones May Not Mean Smart Kids, I wrote about the negative effects of extended screen time, but I didn’t offer much in the way of interventions for it.  Too much screen time is bad for our kids.  Got it.  So what do I do about it?

That’s the right question.  And the answer isn’t mysterious.  One word.  BOUNDARIES.  The only way to step up to the challenge (which is a euphemism for the problem) of limiting your kids to reasonable and healthy screen times is by setting, enforcing and living with boundaries.

Oh, well, that solves it, right?  Well, no.  But it’s the place to start.

I first read John Townsend’s and Henry Cloud’s book, Boundaries, years ago, now.  It’s become one of my several go-to books.  I highly recommend it to you.  Boundaries apply to virtually every aspect of your life.  Your marriage, your family, your career, your church.  Boundaries will govern your life.  Either your boundaries or someone else’s.  If you don’t have reasonable and solid boundaries, you’re at the mercy of whatever is the most pressing issue coming from the most compelling person in the moment.

I’ll go theological for a minute here and say that as a follower of Jesus, you and I are commissioned by the Savior to steward our boundaries.  He intends for us to thoughtfully set and manage boundaries, with the values of Scripture as our constraints.  This is a complex way of me saying God intends us to apply His standards to how we lead our lives, and as parents, how we lead our families.  Boundaries are not optional in this endeavor.  They’re not a good thing to have in your back pocket.  They’re essential.

So let’s do some thinking about setting and keeping boundaries.

Tip number 1: decide where you want to set the boundary for screen time for your family.  How much time do you think is appropriate?  How much feels healthy for you?  You’ll want to have a conversation with your spouse about this.  It might need to not be a quick one, but it doesn’t have to be a shoot-out at the OK Corral.  You’ve got to be a team on this.  If you’re step-parenting, realize that you have no control over what happens at your ex’s house.  You’re not setting boundaries for them.  You’re setting boundaries for your household.  The one you get to lead.

So have a conversation with your spouse.  Think and talk objectively and observationally, not judgmentally.  This will help you not have a fight over it.  Accusations rarely move the ball down the track well.

Tip number 2: call a family meeting.  If your kids are preschoolers, they don’t need any background information about the new rules and boundaries. Just tell them that they won’t be able to use Mommy’s and Daddy’s devices as much as they like.  Tell them that you’ll be the one telling them how much they can and when they can use them.  Secondary Tip: never negotiate with a preschooler. It won’t work out well.

If your kids are in grade school or older, call the family meeting and tell them what the new boundaries are.  The younger your kids are, the less they can handle of the rationale for your decisions.  But by the time they get into middle grade school, most kids can begin to connect the dots enough that you can tell them how and why you came to your decisions on these boundaries.  Bear this in mind, though.  Most kids aren’t going to be excited about you setting limits and boundaries on their screen time.  So don’t expect them to be happy with the new boundaries.  Be prepared for resistance and stand your ground.

Tip number 3: negotiate consequences for violation of the boundaries.  This may not be fun, but you need to do it if you want to make this thing work.  My suggestion is that the older your kids are, the better it is for you to let them help you decide on consequences.  I wrote “help you,” because you’re the final word on it, not them.  And they need to know that.  But you’ll help yourself by getting their input.  You may be surprised that they may even suggest more severe consequences than you would have.

Call them consequences and not punishments.  Yes, they will probably be punishments, but this is a great place and time to introduce a biblical life concept: you reap what you sow.  There are consequences for our choices.  Good choices usually bring good consequences.  Bad choices usually bring bad consequences.  Punishment is a valid thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  But this is a good place to develop the vocabulary and concept of consequences.

OK, that was the more difficult part.  Here’s the most difficult part.

Tip number 4: Enforce the boundaries.

I believe the best way to do this is to make each child who is middle grade school age and older their own monitor.  Make them responsible for keeping track of their own screen time.  I’d do it with a chart on the fridge.

And then I’d follow Ronald Reagan’s advice: trust by verify.  Keep your eye on the clock and your kids’ screen time.  You don’t need to become the screen time cop, but you’ll have to help them observe the boundaries.  Hey, they’re good kids, but they’re still kids.

For younger kids, use the “5 Minute Warning.”  When they’re getting close to the end of their screen time, tell them they’ve got 5 more minutes.  It’s a courtesy, really.  That way they have a warning that they need to wrap up what they’re doing, instead of just getting their water cut off in the middle of something that’s important to them in the moment.

For older kids, I’d just say, “How ya doin’ on your boundary?”  That’s not the accusatory, “You better be watching your time!  Don’t make me come in there…”

You may want to set your boundaries in stone, but be sure you set your plans for holding to them in sand.  People change.  Needs change.  Don’t lock yourself in on things you’ll regret being locked in on.

So you can see, there’s no fool-proof way to enforce screen time limits and boundaries.  But if you approach it experimentally, and with a measure of maturity and confidence, along with God’s help, you can find a moving target, and hit it more times than not.  And that’ll be very good for your kids and for you.

Smart Phones May Not Mean Smart Kids

Xiaomi Mi 8 Lite test and review!I’m trying to think of anybody I know who doesn’t have a smart phone.  Can’t think of anybody.  How about you?  Here’s a word for your vocabulary-building this week: ubiquitous.  It means “everywhere.”  I’m thinking somebody should rename smart phones Ubiquitous Devices.  Nah.  That’ll never fly.  Too many syllables.

I’m a smart phone person, myself.  If it’s not in my pocket or in my hand, I feel naked and handicapped.  I use my iPhone all the time.  Sometimes I even make and receive phone calls on it.  Anybody out there get me on this?

Smart phones and wireless devices have made life better for me in so many ways.  I’d hate to have to go back to the days before iPhones and iPads and their twins from a different mother, the Android devices.  It would slow me down a ton.  I’m grateful for all the good things that technology has put in my lap.

But for families with kids at home, there’s a dark side of technology that every parent needs to know about and think about.  I’ll warn you, though, the truth about technology for kids and families is an inconvenient truth (to quote a very poor scientist from the last century).

Tons of data has been released from studies regarding the impact of “screen time” on children.  None of it is encouraging.  I don’t have the scientific background to write intelligently and authoritatively about the technical aspects of these studies, but I can report what they’re finding in two words: two hours.  These aforementioned studies all agree that the limit for children and screen time is two hours per day.  After that, there is nothing good that comes of time in front of screens.

Bad news here.  This “Screen Time” thing is about all screens, including the TV screen.  Wireless tablets, smart phones, computers, TV.  If it’s got a screen and your kid is watching it, two hours is the limit for positive outcomes.  Two hours, total.  Per day.

There are significant things that happen in a child’s brain as they look at images on a screen for an extended period of time.  Most of which are potentially very harmful.  When images are changing every 1.8 seconds or so, neuro pathways get overstimulated and stay overstimulated for a while, and this generally isn’t a good thing.  How long the effect and the negative aspects of it last depends on many factors, and is different for different individuals.  But the fact that this over-stimulation thing happens is a given.  It happens to everyone.  If you’ve ever had the experience of your kid getting especially feisty and grouchy after a session of video games, you know this brain-thing is real.

With video games, in addition to the screen time involved, the content and theme of the game is an important issue.  Gratuitous violence, sexual innuendos (or blatantly sexual content), inappropriate language (swearing and otherwise), story lines that have to do with executing crimes, and many other themes are part of the video game landscape, and if you want to keep these things out of your kid’s lifestyle, you’ll need to at least consider keeping them out of the game cabinet.  I’m not interested in telling you what games you can have in your home and which ones you can’t.  You’re the parent.  You make that call.  But, please, make a call!

There’s a lot more that can be said/written about video games, but my point on video games is for parents to know what their kids are playing and decide if what they’re playing is appropriate or not.  If it is, you might want to play, too.  But if it’s not, then step up and help them live within your boundaries.  And part of the boundary work needs to include how much time the games you say yes to can be played.

Back to the screen time issue.  I know that limiting your preschooler to under 2 hours of screen time per day will have some challenges for most families.  Especially if the kids have had free reign of devices.  You’re not likely to hear your kid say, “Hey Mom, can you cut me back to two hours with these things?”  You’ll probably end up with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth when you cut them back.

If you want to limit their screen time to 2 hours a day, you’ll have to have some replacement activities ready.  The younger your kids are, the more supervision they will need.  Duah.  So you’re not going to be able to set them up and go do what you want to do.  You may have to stay there and keep them from finger painting the kitchen or giving the cat a haircut.  And that will cost you time and energy.  Sorry.

When I typed “indoor activities for preschool kids” into Google, according to the message at the top of the screen, I got “about 94,500,000 results.”  Granted, not all of them are good.  Not all of them are free.  Some of them are just way not for you or your kids.  But, really, if you can’t find something to do out of 94,500,000 possibilities…

Back to the brain-thing for a minute.  The same part of the brain that is stimulated by cocaine gets stimulated by screen images.  If you’re thinking there might be some kind of connection there with addictions, you’re right.  Prolonged over-stimulation creates addiction issues.  And that ought to catch your breath.

If you do Facebook, you may have seen posts about teenagers going ballistic over having their devices taken away.  They have a small mental break-down.  Anxiety attacks.  Panic.  Fits of rage.

I’m not making any moral judgment about these kids.  I’m just making an observation that these are responses I’ve seen in addicts.  These are withdrawal responses.

Even if there weren’t these (and more) physiological/neurological issues involved, I think we’d need to take a close look at the screen time thing.  Among many other things, this one is my greatest concern.  Kids who spend hours and hours with screen time are not doing one particular thing that is essential to their development.  One thing that holds the potential to make or break them in their lives over time.  They’re not reading.  Or being read to.  You can make of that what you want, but for me, this is a big issue.  Huge.  Reading is an essential skill that has to be developed through practice.  Of course you’re free to disagree, but I believe if you want to set your kids up for their greatest successes in life, help them develop strong reading skills.  And even if your kid is exceptional, they won’t be able to do this while they have unlimited screen time.

All this has been about the problem, but not much (as in nothing) about what to do about it, other than set limits on screen time.  I’ve got more input on all this, but not until next time.

Safe

Safe Place Program - Operation SafeHouse

We are designed by God to seek safety. This primal instinct is a gift, actually. Without it, the human race wouldn’t have survived past Adam and Eve. There’s a part of every healthy human’s brain whose primary function is to notice when our safety is threatened and sound alarms about it. Thank You, God, for this little spot in our Limbic System that is really only concerned with our safety.

If you’re awake, your brain is scanning your environment for levels of threat. Our need for safety is always spinning somewhere below the surface. That’s how the brain works. Imagine how exhausting it would be if we had to consciously focus on this all the time. In combat, one of the things that causes physical and emotional fatigue is the need to consciously be scanning for threat all the time. The term for soldiers on the front lines who don’t do this is “dead.”

In the last couple of months, safety has come to front and center in ways I don’t ever remember before. It seems like every other commercial on TV is about staying safe. “Stay home; stay safe; save lives.” Products as diverse as insurance and toilet paper have caught the wave and are promoting themselves in light of the need to stay safe. There’s a bit of paranoia afoot about staying safe. Just my opinion. An obsession of sorts. Again, just my opinion. I’ll not go into my personal feelings about this. I’ve got ’em, and I bet you do, too.

Wanting to be safe and to keep our families and friends safe is not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing, in fact. You want people and things you care about to be safe. You’re supposed to. But there’s a thing about safety that we’ve got to factor in. It’s this: nothing and nobody can ever be completely safe.

Do as many things as you know to do, put as many safeguards into your plan as you can, make things as safe as you can possibly make them, and the best you can do is make life relatively safe. There is no absolute safety. I’ll say it again, nothing and nobody can ever be completely safe. Sorry if this makes you mad or sad or feel disrespected. It’s a fact, though. We live in a fallen, broken world. Safety will always be relative. The best we’ll ever be able to do is to make things as safe as we can.

Here’s an example. Do you feel safe in your car or truck? I generally do. When I get in and start it up, my mind is never on the fact that nearly 1.25 million people ​are killed in ​​car crashes each year. On average, that’s 3,287 deaths a day. Or that an additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. (https://www.thewanderingrv.com/car-accident-statistics/) It never enters my mind. I assume I will safely get where I’m going. I try to drive wisely (most of the time…), but I’m not all locked up with fear because there is a chance I could be one of 1.25 million.

Believe it or not, thousands of people die on the golf course every year. And at Walmart. And in church. But I still go enthusiastically to the golf course, and perhaps less enthusiastically, but I still go to Walmart and to church.

Now, you may be thinking I’m taking shots at the Pandemic Mentality. OK. Sort of. But the part of the mentality I’m shooting at is the fear-driven part. The part that’s locking people up unnecessarily.

There is science on both sides of the lock-down thing that is involved in what I interpret as paranoia. Some scientists say staying home has dramatically reduced the number of death to COVID-19. But there are other equally credentialed scientists who say, looking at the same body of data, that locking down actually inhibits what will eventually create the greatest amount of safety, herd immunity.

Yes, more than 70,000 people have died from COVID-19 in some form. (Actually, the hard numbers on this are still being processed. Some very astute scientists believe the numbers could be inflated by as much as 25%. You decide what number you want to believe.) My point is that the Coronavirus is an actual and present threat to thousands of people. Especially those in older demographics and those with other serious medical issues. I’m not pretending the Coronavirus is a myth. It’s real.

What I’m concerned with, though, is the level of paranoia from which we react to it. There are many legitimate reasons to respond wisely, and many fairly simple things this involves. Wash your hands. So your best to say “socially distanced.” If you feel sick, stay home. If you show symptoms, get tested. If you test positive, quarantine yourself. Pay attention. These would be wise responses.

What I believe is unhealthy is panicked reactions. Generally, panicked reactions don’t work out very well.

When your Amygdala (the part of your brain in your Limbic System that registers threat and then fires out signals to your metabolic system to make you ready for fight or flight) goes into hyper-mode, it creates a kind of panic and then becomes the engine for you to react. The part of your brain that is capable of responding (your Prefrontal Cortex) gets hijacked by your Amygdala in a nano-second. You don’t thoughtfully process data and choose a response. You just react. Reacting is a non-thinking thing. Again, this is a gift from God, built into us as a means of prolonging us as a species.

If your Amygdala is firing off because there’s a snake in your path, that could very well save your life, or the life of someone you love. That’s a good thing. But if what your visual cortex as a snake is what is actually just a stick, and you react with the same intensity as though it was a snake, well, that’s not as good a thing.

The COVID-19 outbreak isn’t a stick in the path. It’s an actual snake, and it can do actual damage to whomever it attacks. Statistically, it has a somewhat low kill rate. Less than 2% of the population is likely to get it. But if you’re in the 2%, you can not afford to ignore its very real threat.

So we’re on a sort of tightrope. Over reacting will make wise response impossible. If we under react, game over.

OK, I’m getting ready to land the plane. And not on a political landing strip.

Our current situation with COVID-19 is a case study of sorts. If my theory is correct, nothing and nobody can ever be completely safe, then what are we supposed to do in the face of this real and present danger? My answer is what I remember of a line in My Utmost for His Highest, “Trust God and do what’s next.” (This is probably a gross paraphrase, so my apologies to My Utmost… aficionados.)

As Christians, we have an obligation to both trust God and be wise. If I had to lean to one side or the other, I’d lean toward the trust God side. The good news, though, is that we don’t have to chose one over the other. We get to do both. We get to trust God (Who, by the way, the only One Who can keep any of us safe) AND do what wisdom instructs. In some ways, asking which is more important is like asking which wing on the airplane is more important. I saw a meme on Facebook the other day with a Spurgeon quote about which is more important, prayer or reading the Bible. He responded, “What is more important, breathing in or breathing out?” I think that principle applies here.

What I’m promoting here is not an either/or mentality, but a both/and approach. If you’re not trusting God, well, you MUST! Especially if you claim to be a Christian and follower of Jesus. If you’re not acting wisely, you MUST! God has entrusted your life to you as a stewardship. Steward it wisely and faithfully. The Apostle Paul wrote it this way, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15)

Let’s do one another a favor, and steward our lives well by being careful how we live. Live wisely. Respond to what happens to us, instead of reacting to it out of fear and panic.

And by the way, if you’re a parent, you’re teaching your kids how to deal with the sometimes intense and dangerous things that happen in life. The stakes on this are high for you. So live Eph. 5:15-ly.

Now go wash your hands.

WWE

WWE Logo | new WWE logo wallpaper by MajinKhaN | Wwe logo, Wwe ...

I grew up in Oklahoma, where we had a weekly broadcast of “Championship Wrestling” – pronounced “Rasslin'”. Bodies flying through the air, launched from the ropes or charging from the corners, on the screen of our black and white TV. Dramatic screams of agony. Heads bouncing off the mat. It was all choreographed and scripted. We knew it probably was, but we were willing to suspend our disbelief and watch the dance as if it were real. And sometimes us boys would adjourn to the back yard when it was over and have our own Championship Rasslin’ match. Often it ended with somebody getting hurt. People my age know what I’m talking about.

In the last several years, rasslin’ has taken quite a turn. In my opinion, a turn for the worse. Bodies still fly through the air. There is still some scripted plot line – good guys vs. bad guys (or girls as the case may be). But the ad libs on the script are more violent, more aggressive, more just plane mean than I remember them from the Championship Rasslin’ days. The advertisements for WWE and it’s competitors all capitalize on the meanness and violence. “This ain’t your daddy’s wrestling.”

I won’t beat around the bush. My problem with this new breed of professional wrestling is that it normalizes violence. It also glamorizes it. These new pro wrestlers are millionaires on their way to being multi-millionaires, and are happy to flaunt it. They play to packed and ravenous coliseums of wild fans. And millions of TV and Internet fans. They’re bona fide celebrities.

I don’t resent them for their income or their celebrity. I don’t really resent them at all, personally. In terms of executing their scripts with believably, they’re actually talented. I’m not advocating that someone launch a campaign to shut them down, either. After all, a fair case can be made that College and Professional Football are equally as violent. So is boxing. So were the Three Stooges. And the Wiley Coyotee and the Road Runner.

But the difference between boxing and football and WWE is that in both boxing and football, there are rules that govern combat. In football, many of the rules have been placed for the protection of players against injuries from unnecessary violence. As far as I can tell, there are no rules in WWE. Except maybe for, “Do unto them before they can do unto you.”

It would be easy for me to tap dance on my soapbox for another hour about this, but that’s not what I want to do – although there is much that I could write. What I want to tap dance a little about is the normalization of violence. This, I believe, is a dangerous trend that we overlook to our harm, as individuals, families and a culture as a whole.

Here’s where my concern starts. Who is the target audience for WWE? They’ll tell you it’s anybody with a TV or Internet connection. And that’s probably true in the broadest sense. But when you look more closely, it doesn’t take a degree in cultural anthropology to figure out that adolescent boys are either the bull’s eye of their target, or very near it. Adolescent boys, who generally have cash at their disposal, and who know how to spend it. They also have an abundance of testosterone and adrenaline. Like 24/7. They have far more physical capability than they have emotional and mental control. Their impulse control neurology is quite underdeveloped.

That’s a recipe for some bad stuff.

I believe the same should be said for the violent video games that are targeted and pitched at teens. I sometimes see quotes and comments saying that no hard evidence exists from empirical research to verify that there is a connection between the violence of TV and video games and the violence that is acted out in society. Frankly, I disbelieve this. The more I learn about the brain, the more convinced I am that there is a very strong (in my opinion, undeniable) connection between what adolescents (and younger children) see and what they do.

If you’re a teacher, you don’t need me to tell you that students are more violence-prone today than they were even 5 years ago. (You don’t need me to say their attention spans have shrunk, too. This, I believe, is a result of the .10 second duration of most images they view on TV. It is even more true and powerful in the video games they play.)

VR (Virtual Reality) games put all this on steroids. The division between the reality of the real world and the fiction of the game world are blurred by the vividness of the images, sounds, experience. Even adults have trouble keeping the two separated.

PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU GE THIS: I am not saying that WWE and video games are of the Devil. You make your own judgment about that. But what I am saying is that when young people are exposed to gratuitous violence, it normalizes violence. And that’s a problem.

If you’re a Christian and a parent, you’ve got the very heavy responsibility to raise your kids to know God and His design for life. The point of raising them is to release them into their own lives and choices, having done what you can to make them ready for those lives and choices. I am not advocating that you control all your teens’ choices. That won’t work. I’m advocating that you set up the appropriate guard rails that will guide your teen to make good choices for themselves.

The younger the child, the more essential it is that you, the parent, set the boundaries. But as your child ages, they must learn how to set and live with boundaries they set for themselves. I’ve got a ton more to say about this. But not all at once in this post.

For this post, here’s my challenge to you, Mom, Dad. Respectfully dialogue with your teens and pre-teens about what they’re watching and the games they’re immersing themselves in.

Those first two words are the operative ones. RESPECTFULLY. DIALOGUE.

The best time to do that is ahead of the curve. Talk about this before a crisis about it.

Unfortunately, lots of families won’t be able to get ahead of it. That train already left the station. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just start where you are. Set up a calm, even relaxed conversation with them and have a respectful dialogue about it.

Before you do that, ask God to put respect in your heart and words, and that He will open your kid’s heart. You won’t get too far on your own. Nobody’s that smart. Not even you.

Ask God to give you the courage to set up a time and open the respectful dialogue, and then humbly follow His lead.

Not a Happy Day

Top 10 Ways to Be an Unhappy Mother of Twins - Twiniversity

Normally, families all across the US would gather to celebrate Mother today. Store-bought cards with sloppy sentiment and home-made cards with Picasso -ish pictures and childish handwriting would express love and gratitude for Mom. If Mom was lucky, she’d be seated at a table at her favorite restaurant, with her adoring family around her, and beam like a Queen on her dais. Or perhaps at her own table, but enjoying a meal prepared by someone other than herself. Usually, the second Sunday in May is a happy day for Moms.

But not always. Not this year. Gathering for a big family dinner isn’t possible for lots of people in America this year. Lots of Moms will be eating by themselves or in the company of their husband in a relatively empty and quiet house. Lots of sons and daughters will be waving and blowing kisses on Zoom or FaceTime or some other video call technology, but not giving hugs and kisses in person. For Moms who are used to the old way, this may not be a very happy day.

But there are other people who may not be having a happy day this Mother’s Day. I know one. She’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. Physically beautiful, and spiritually a giant. For the last several years, she’s been trying to conceive and have a baby. But there’s no baby. She was motherly to hundreds of boys and girls in her ministry. Loved and adored by them and their families. But heaven seems closed to her prayers and ours for a baby. Mother’s Day isn’t a happy day for her. It’s a reminder of what she doesn’t have. Hope dies a little more every Mother’s Day for her.

There’s another woman for whom this is a desperately hard day. She’s a Mom, but not in the way she wanted to be. This is her first year to celebrate Mother’s Day without her baby. He didn’t survive a car crash. She’ll tearfully place a rose on his grave this afternoon. This isn’t a happy day for her.

I have a friend whose mother died just a few weeks ago from cancer. This isn’t a happy Mother’s Day for him. It’s a fresh reminder that he’ll never hear her voice or feel her touch again.

I have another friend whose mother was horribly abusive to him for his entire upbringing. Abusive both physically and emotionally. Mercifully for her, she has no memory of the abuse now. She’s in the late 80s and losing many of her memories. But my friend has not lost the memories. He is in the process of forgiving her, and making amazing headway in the process. But for him, Mother’s Day isn’t a happy day.

There are so many more stories of unhappy Mother’s Days. Moms who are hiding from abusive husbands, living in a shelter until they can find a safe place to try and make a life. Moms who are estranged from their children. Moms who have sons and/or daughters deployed across the globe to keep the world safe. Or who have sons and/or daughters who are deployed in hospitals as front line soldiers in a different kind of war to keep the world safe. Moms who’ve been forced to shelter in place behind the locked doors of a nursing home and won’t see their family this Mother’s Day, unless they can somehow come and wave at her from outside her window.

For many, many Mom’s, today isn’t a happy day. The Proverbs 31 Woman sermons that are preached via video today aren’t comforting and encouraging. They’re just another reminder of sorrow and separation.

If, somehow, this post finds its way into the inbox of one of you who I may have poorly described here, I want to say I’m sorry for your loss, for your grief, for your unfulfilled dreams and your unanswered prayers. I’m sorry that we have no day to celebrate your value, the treasure you are.

I wish I had something creative and healing to say to you. But there are no words that can make the disappointment and sadness you may be feeling on this Mother’s Day go away. Words can’t change your reality.

The best I can do is to pray this prayer of blessing on you, from Numbers 6;24-26.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”

New Normal

Venice Beach Freakshow - Home | Facebook

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Every other commercial on TV is about “the New Normal.” Lots of Facebook posts are about it. Some even say we never had a normal, so there won’t ever be a New Normal. Way to go, Steve. Way to be original with HomeworK.

Yep. I get it. There’s nothing original about what I’ve got here. I’m just another guy pecking away at a computer with his opinion about what we might do about what we’ve got. Thanks for not deleting my post without reading this far.

There is this part of me that wants to just say, “Forget figuring out a New Normal. There is no such thing. Stop whining about it and just move on.” Life in these last couple of months hasn’t been Normal, and there’s no indication that it will ever come back to what we would have called Normal in February.

But there’s another part of me that knows that eventually we will settle back into some kind of Normal over time.

Debbie and I were living in Las Vegas in 2008, serving a truly incredible church, Canyon Ridge Christian Church, there. When the economy did it’s Humpty Dumpty header off the wall and exploded into a gillion pieces that year, Las Vegas was devastated. At one point, we had a nearly 25% unemployment rate in our church. It was awful. We were confronted with the undeniable concept of a New Normal.

But Las Vegas made a pretty incredible comeback. Before the Covid-19 outbreak and shut-down, Las Vegas had more than rebounded. It had acquired an NHL team and an NFL team, and was blowing past its former economic high times. People who make money off economic growth were very much in love with Vegas’s New Normal. It was even more profitable than it had been pre-2008.

Currently, though, Las Vegas is holding its breath, waiting for the governor to disclose a plan to open the state back up. And as it holds its breath, it lays hundreds of thousands of employees of every kind off. This New Normal is very ugly. Probably more ugly than 2008.

This isn’t isolated to Las Vegas. Nearly every part of our great country has been put in a strangle hold by the events we’re weathering. Every segment of our economy and national life has been very nearly wrecked by it.

The smartest epidemiologists and the smartest economists are making their projections about what the road ahead will look like. And from these projections we’ll construct some kind of model for the New Normal. Frankly, I have little confidence that it will be very accurate. Not many of the projections related to Coronavirus have been to this point. In some ways, we’re a little like Lewis and Clark. When they left St Louis, they knew some important things about their trek West, and had a limited map to begin working from, but it wasn’t long before there was no map to chart their way forward. They were making the map as they went. Turns out the Colombia River did flow to the Pacific Ocean, and that’s a good thing. But it’s headwaters were on the other side of the most daunting mountain range on our continent. And that wasn’t so good.

We’re drawing a map of the land as we go, too, in a metaphorical sense. We’re using pencil, not ink because there will be lots of corrections. Frankly, I’m glad I haven’t been called on to do any of the drawing on this.

Or have I? The map of New Normal for the country is somebody else’s work. But the map of New Normal for me is my work. Nobody else is responsible for drawing my New Normal map.

The point of what I’m posting today is to challenge you to join me in mapping out a New Normal for our own lives and families. I’ve got a few suggestions:

  1. Think through what you want to keep of your the personal and family patterns you’ve been in for these last couple of months. Some of these things won’t be much different than life before Covid-19. But there are some things that have been significantly different in your family life for the last couple of months. What of them do you want to keep?
    I’d say things like hand-washing and household hygiene would be good to keep on the list.
    Maybe things like routine phone and/or video calls with friends and family would be good to keep.
    Eating meals together would be good to keep.
    Eating out less might be good to keep. It would probably be good for your budget.
    Deciding what’s important to get done and what isn’t a 3-alarm fire would be a good one to keep. The concept of not reacting to everything like it was an emergency is a good idea, Covid-19 notwithstanding.
    Getting adequate sleep and going at a little slower pace might be a good pair to keep, if you’ve been able to pull them off.
    You’ll need to flesh out your own list.
    Write your stuff down and keep it somewhere you won’t lose it.
  2. In the same line of thought, what are some things you don’t want to keep in your New Normal.
    Like doing all your kids’ school online. They probably don’t like it. You probably don’t. I guarantee their teachers don’t.
    Or staying at home all the time. That one goes on my list.
    Or eating EVERY meal at home. This one also goes on my list.
    Believe it or not, for me, anyway, not being in my entire family’s presence all day every day goes on my list. And my entire family consists of my wife, our cat and me.
    Going to church only online gets on my list, too.
    You’ve got your own things.
    Write them on the list.
  3. Call a family meeting and see what they think of your list. Let them add to it or take away from it. The point of making the list to help you and your family choose your own New Normal. It won’t do this (help you choose your own New Normal) if it’s “your list.” It’s got to be theirs, too. And the only way to get there is to give them input. So have a family meeting and talk about it.
  4. Then create a document that you can refer back to. You may want to put it on the refrigerate or in some other prominent place so that it can be referred back to.
  5. Make a commitment to live by your New Normal as much as is possible. This document isn’t the Ten Commandments. So don’t make them so set in stone that you can’t be flexible. The point is to help you live by a chosen set of ideas so that you can make the most of your life together.

If you and your family don’t choose your own New Normal, somebody else will choose it for you. That’s a fairly immutable law of life. So take the initiative and be intentional about it. Harvest as much good as you can from this inconvenient and often very difficult season. I have a feeling an effort like this is recommended by Ephesians 5:15-16. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

So go ahead and make the most of this opportunity.