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!

Beads and Parenting … 2 Years Later

Two years ago this week I wrote about How Jars of Beads Have Affected My Parenting. You can read the idea behind it in the original post, but basically each bead represents a day, and the number of beads represent the number of days each of our girls have until they are off to college, and this season of life is over, the next phase of life begins, and the dynamics of our relationship with them will change in many ways. As of today (using mid-August as an estimate) we are down to 365 days remaining for Claudia, and 1,460 days left for Natalia. You can see in the pictures below the comparison of how far the beads have gone down in two years. It’s a sober reminder of how fast time goes by, and also a challenge to make sure we give our girls our best and invest well in them before they are off to college or wherever God leads them after high school. As I wrote previously, there are days when I kick myself for not doing more to invest in and impact them. And there are other days when I can say we did a pretty good job creating memories and/or preparing them for life. Through it all we are trying and we are learning. Here are a couple of things I have been thinking about, especially as I reach into Claudia’s jar every morning.

  • The further down the beads go, the tougher they are to reach. You’ll notice that the vases have curves in them. When the beads are closer to the top they are easy to get to. But within the past couple of months, I have noticed that it is harder to get my hand into the vase to reach Claudia’s beads. Hard truth: The older our kids get the more difficult it is to reach them. But there is good news.
  • It is still possible to reach them, it just takes some adjusting and creativity. I can still reach the beads, but I have to change my approach. I can’t go in with my hand wide open. Instead I have to make my hand as thin as I can, and once I get through the curve, I have to maneuver my fingers awkwardly until I get a bead. Then I have to somehow hold on to it as I contort my hand to get it back through the curve. Another thing I sometimes have to do is tip the vase so the beads get closer to the opening and they are easier to reach. Truth: We can still influence our kids as they get older, but we have to be patient and creative in our approach.

044dd-img_9648IMG_6382God, please help us as parents to redeem the time and maximize the days we have during this precious season of our daughters’ lives to point them to You and to empower them to be the women of God You have called them to be. You have great plans and purposes for their lives, and we pray they will find their identity, security, and destiny in You, and You alone. Amen.


Why Read the Bible Every Day Even When You Don’t Understand It?

 “I have put Scripture at the top for fairly obvious reasons, which are there in Jesus’s teachings and elsewhere in the writings of the early Christians. The practice of reading Scripture, studying Scripture, acting Scripture, singing Scripture — generally soaking oneself in Scripture as an individual and the community — has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as central to the formation of Christian character.

“It is important to stress at this point (lest the whole scheme collapse into triviality) that this has only secondarily to do with the fact that Scripture gives particular instructions on particular topics. That is important, of course, but it is far more important that the sheer activity of reading Scripture, in the conscious desire to be shaped and formed within the purposes of God, is itself an act of faith, hope, and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome. To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did (6:10). no matter where our exile may have taken us.

“It is, in particular, a way of locating ourselves as actors within an ongoing drama. No matter how many smaller stories there may be within Scripture, and how many million edifying stories there may be outside it, the overall drama of Scripture, as it stands, forms a single plot whose many twists and turns nonetheless converge remarkably on a main theme, which is the reconciliation of heaven and earth as God the Creator deals with all that frustrates his purpose for his world and, through his Son and his Spirit, creates a new people through whom his purpose — filling the world with his glory — is it last to be realized. To be formed by this capital-S story is to be formed as a Christian. To take the thousand, and ten thousand, decisions to open the Bible today and read more of the story, even if we can’t yet join it all up in our own heads, is to take the next small step toward being the sort of person who, by second nature, will think, pray, act, and even feel in the way appropriate for someone charged with taking that narrative forward.

“We are not yet, after all, at the end of the drama. Bible readers … will find themselves drawn in as “characters” on stage. Yes that may well mean “playing a part,” and all the old charges of hypocrisy that cluster around the practices of virtue will come rumbling in here as well. But the more you know the play, the less you will be “playing a part” and the more you will simply be yourself. Sooner or later, you’ll be acting naturally. Second nature. That’s how virtue works.

“Of course, within the Bible there are all kinds of far more specific passages which shape and direct the life of faith, hope, and love, and which the Spirit can and does use to stir up God’s people to produce fruit. Almost every paragraph of the four gospels will have this effect, if read, pondered, and prayed through slowly and carefully. Likewise, the Psalms will open up the heart and mind of anyone who reads, sings, or prays them with any attention; they will form and reform that heart and mind in a way which, though by no means always comfortable, is always formative of Christian character. Even the genealogies, best read today at a run, can provide a powerful sense of the ongoing purposes of God, with generation after generation living by faith and hope before the next major point in the divine purpose unfolds, like a long-awaited late-blooming orchid. Some parts of the Bible are best drunk like a large glass of water on a hot day — in other words large quantities at a time — while others, such as many parts of the letters, are best sipped and savored, drop by drop, like a fine wine (always remembering that, especially in a letter, every verse means what it means in relation to the whole thing, not on it’s own). But the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming; not just in the sense that the more you do it the more you are likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form the habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And the “your” here is primarily plural, however important the singular as well.

“This isn’t to say there aren’t hard bits in the Bible — both passages that are difficult to understand and passages that we understand only too well but find shocking or disturbing … Avoid the easy solution to these: that these bits weren’t “inspired,” or that the whole Bible is wicked nonsense, or that Jesus simply abolished the bits we disapprove of. Live with tensions. Goodness knows there are plenty of similar tensions in our own lives, our own world. Let the troubling words jangle against one another. Take the opportunity to practice some patience (there may yet be more meaning here than I can see at the moment) and humility (God may well have things to say through this for which I’m not yet ready). In fact, humility is one of the key lessons which comes from reading the Bible over many years; there are some bits we find easy and other bits we find hard, but not everybody agrees as to which is which.

“Some people, it seems, are temperamentally suited to a particular book or type of book which others find opaque. John’s gospel is like that: some acclaim it as the very summit of the Scriptures, while others, though appreciating some of its great strengths, find it awkward and puzzling. Some people find that with St. Paul as well. Perhaps — and this is where humility comes in — it might just be the case that Scripture is so arranged that in order to grow toward a full genuine humanness, toward the well-rounded virtue of being a royal priesthood, we have to grow into Scripture, like a young boy inheriting his older brothers clothes and flopping around in them while he gradually fills out and grows up. Perhaps it’s a measure of our own maturity when parts of Scripture that we found odd or even repellent suddenly come up in a new light; when people who naturally embrace Paul come to love John as well, and vice versa; when people soaked in Revelation suddenly warm to Acts, and vice versa. Perhaps it’s another sign of maturity when our sense that Scripture is made up of some bits we know and love and other bits we tolerate while waiting for our favorites to come around once more, is suddenly overtaken by a sense of the whole thing — wide, multicolored, and unspeakably powerful. We had, perhaps, been wandering around in light mist, visiting favorite villages and hamlets, and then, as the mist gradually cleared, we discovered that everything we had loved was enhanced as it was glimpsed within a massive landscape, previously unsuspected, full of hills and valleys and unimagined glory” (N.T. Wright, After You Believe, pp. 261-264).

Full Court Basketball Shot … 1 Take … Filmed by Drone

Admittedly a short court, but still fun. Just one take for the Drone at Camp Shiloh last week.