Family Staycation

One of the unique challenges many youth pastors face is finding time for family vacation. The reason it is difficult is because the times when students are out of school are usually prime times to do things with them that you can’t do when school is in session. When everyone else is able to take vacation, we are running events, taking kids to camp, on missions trips, etc. When the youth pastor has school-aged children of his/her own, as soon as the breaks are over and they’re ready for a vacation, they can’t go because their kids have school. Such was the case for me this summer. While our family is planning some special vacations this year (it’s our eldest daughter’s last year of high school), we simply couldn’t get much time away together this summer. But yesterday we did take a day off to head into New York City for a mini staycation. We went on a nice brunch cruise around the city, visited the new One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) Observatory, 102 floors up on the tallest building in the western hemisphere, and had dinner and a nice time on Penn Plaza. Today was the last day of chill before the girls go back to school tomorrow, so tonight we had a nice family dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Buona Sera in Smithtown. It’s hard to believe tomorrow is Natalia’s first day of high school, and Claudia’s last first day of high school.

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Courageous Parenting: The Sisterhood Challenge

Two young girls, 15 and 11 years old from suburbia.

On their way to New York City.


If you were one of the girls, how would you be feeling? What would you be thinking? Hopefully you hadn’t watched the movie Home Alone 2 recently.


Looking at this scene as a parent, what would you be thinking? What would you be worried about? What would you think of these girls’ parents?

What if I told you that this was the parents’ idea? What if I told you that this true is story? What if I told you this is exactly what happened two-and-a-half years ago? What if I told you these two girls were Claudia and Natalia, and these parents were Adriana and me?

What if I told you it was one of the greatest parenting moves we ever made?

Before you start freaking out, let me tell you how it all came about.

It was December 20, 2013. It was a Friday. Adriana and I were both off from work. We had tickets to go see the play A Christmas Story in Manhattan. When I woke up that morning I had one of those ideas in which every detail just came together in rapid succession in my mind. But just as quickly as I got excited about it, I started to feel bummed out. There was no way my wife would go for it. I knew it was the kind of thing loaded with the kind of adventure I crave; but Adriana is not as adventurous as I am. Still, the idea was nagging at me because it was loaded with opportunity. While I knew her initial reaction was going to be to reject it, I also thought perhaps there was a slight chance she would go for it if I could get her to hear the whole thing out, and my reasons for wanting to do it. A parenting principle I live by is:

Protection is important.
Nurture is more important.
Equipping is the most important!

To that end, I made Adriana the best cup of coffee imaginable (I may or may not have sweetened the environment with some flowers), and I worked up the courage to share the idea with her, knowing full well that the delicious coffee she was drinking might end up all over me if she reacted with one of those ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!! kind of responses. I was about to make a big ask. I was about to ask her to consider doing something that would stretch our whole family. Here’s what I asked her:

What if we create a challenge for our girls to exercise their maturity? What if we head into the city together, and leave Claudia and Natalia to make their way into the city on their own to meet us?

(Insert ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!! about here.)

“Wait, wait,” I told her. “Hear me out.”

“We will leave them detailed instructions and resources. I will write out everything they need to do, exactly as they need to do it. I will secure someone to come and pick them up at the house and drive them to the train station. I will leave them money and tell them how to buy train tickets. We will tell them where to meet us. If you stop and think about it, we’re only asking them to listen and follow instructions, and really the only thing they are doing is going from our house to the train station, riding the train directly to Penn Station (which is the last stop, so there is no chance they will miss their stop), and walking up the stairs to find us at the Starbucks in Penn Station. It’s really very straight forward and simple, but for them it will seem like a big adventure, a daunting undertaking, and it will instill in them some very important life principles and confidence. So, what do you think?”

“Who will pick them up? But what if …?” she asked.

I assured her we would get someone they knew to pick them up. Someone safe. And I answered her other questions sufficiently enough that Adriana finally, nervously, a bit hesitantly, said Yes. Like I said, this exercise was going to stretch all of us, not just the girls. And with that, I got to work.

Here is the actual letter I left them:

Welcome to …

The Sisterhood Teamwork Challenge!

  • It should be about 3:20pm
  • Rules:
    • Rule #1: No Whining or complaining!
    • Rule #2: No Fighting!
    • Rule #3: No Phone calls unless it’s a real emergency!
    • Rule #4: No Fear!
    • Rule #5: Work together!
    • Rule #6: Be confident!
    • Rule #7: Stay together at all times!
    • Rule #8: Stay together at all times!
  • We Believe in you!
  • After you finish reading this, get ready. Dress warmly. Warm pants, good walking shoes, coat, hat, gloves, maybe a scarf.
  • Make sure to take the envelop on the table.
  • Don’t forget your phones.
  • A safe car is coming to pick you up at 3:45pm. It will take you to the Manhasset train station.
  • Use the cash provided. Go to the Ticket Machine that accepts cash. (Some only take credit cards.)
    • Select Round Trip – Off Peak from Manhasset to Penn Station. 1 child and 1 adult. Select None. Pay with Cash.
  • Get tickets, and your change.
  • Get on the train when it arrives. The train is scheduled to leave at 4:13pm. Make sure you get on the train to Penn Station.
  • Send a text to us simply saying, “We are on the train.”
  • During the ride use the sheet provided to interview one another.
  • When you arrive at Penn Station, walk upstairs and find Starbucks.
  • Remember, always look confident, not scared!
  • When you arrive at Starbucks you will be greeted by your parents and something special that you will love.
  • Smile & celebrate when you arrive! You did it!

Adriana and I were sitting in Starbucks that afternoon, anxiously checking the time and carefully watching the Starbucks entrance. Finally, we saw them. Two young ladies walking toward Starbucks, wide-eyed, hoping and praying that they would see their parents. They had done it. After the old Why did you do that? We can’t believe you left without us! rant they smiled, realizing they had done it; that it wasn’t as insane or as dangerous as they had imagined it would be, and we laughed and debriefed the experience together over dinner before going to the play. It was awesome!

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Our girls are now 17 and (almost) 14. Now Claudia asks us if she can go to the city without us all the time. Natalia isn’t yet asking to go to the city without us, but she does ask if she can venture locally with her friends. I thought of this story last weekend. Both of them came to us asking if they could go to Hillsongs Church in NYC with a few of their friends. There was no unhealthy fear in their voices. They were confident. Because of our little “experiment” a couple of years ago, Adriana and I knew this was not too big a thing for them to do. They knew how to buy train tickets, read the signs in Penn Station, and get around, so we said they could go. When they got home they told us how they ran into one of their friends and her mom in line for church. The mom, who is a good friend of ours, was in amazement that they were there without us.

When we were together the other night after one of our youth events I recounted the above story for this mom, and explained that it was because of little challenges like that through the years that we were able to have confidence in our girls to do bigger things now. He who is faithful with little can be trusted with much.

Remember, parents, give your kids some controlled challenges while they are young. Safety is important. Providing for your kids is more important. But putting them in challenging (not dangerous, but not completely risk-free) situations that will stretch them and help them be able to face the challenges of their lives ahead with knowledge, wisdom, and confidence is the most important thing. Don’t let unhealthy fear set the agenda for your parenting. Be courageous. Your kids will thank you for it one day.

Serve and Swim 2015

It’s been several years since I came up with the Serve and Swim concept, and it’s always one of my favorite things we do during the summer. The concept is simple. Go out and do a simple act of kindness in the community, then take everyone and go swimming at someone’s house. Tonight was Serve and Swim 2015, and we had a great outreach with our students!

We are launching a third Shelter Rock Church campus in Westbury on October 4th, so I contacted a local ice cream store and worked out a deal to buy several hundred scoops of ice cream to give out to people in the community for free. Tonight our students walked Post Ave. in Westbury and gave out 380 coupons for a free scoop of ice cream compliments of SRC, along with an Invite Card for the Westbury launch. We had many good conversations with folks. Several said they would come and check out SRC. One guy told us he’s coming and bringing his whole family. Another lady in a bar started bawling her eyes out in tears of joy when she heard that a church was starting right around the corner from her house. We talked to lots of the local business owners too. Before we left for our pool party, I bought all of our kids ice cream. It was a great way to partner with and support a local business, and a great way to build excitement about our church coming to town.

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Senior Pics and The Next Miss Teen New York?

Today Claudia had her senior pictures taken. It’s hard to believe this will be her last year of high school. Also, yesterday she received the exciting news that she has been selected to participate in the Miss Teen New York pageant! We are so proud of our beautiful girl!


Today the Braces Came Off, Tomorrow Senior Pictures

Today was a milestone day in our family! Natalia got her braces off! We are so happy for our girl who is about to begin her freshman year! Tomorrow Claudia is getting her senior pictures done. How time flies!IMG_3345


Family on TV … You’re Welcome Mets Fans!

A couple of weeks ago our family went to the Mets game. Although we’re Yankees fans, we always enjoy going to baseball games, especially when we get free tickets. I’m also a sucker for free t-shirts (I am a youth pastor, after all!), and it was t-shirt night. It was a tough battle that went into extra innings. During the bottom of the 12th inning the Mets finally show us Yankees fans on TV (:07-:10 in video), and wouldn’t you know it … 2 pitches later, Flores hits a walk-off home run to end the game. It was a very exciting finish, and it was fun to be there. Our Mets fan friends call us good luck charms. You’re welcome! lol!