Why My Family Decided To Leave Chicago

I did something yesterday that I thought—and many times vowed—I would never do. I announced to my church that I was resigning as a pastor and elder and my family would be leaving Chicago, effective this summer.

When I moved here in 2002 right after college, it was in my mind a decision for life.  This was a church plant and the work to be done would not be done overnight, so I wasn’t going anywhere. And with time, God overflowed my life with purpose and meaning from this volunteer, bi-vocational role in this church. So leaving seemed impossible. When I started dating my wife in 2014, I was upfront that I was in Chicago for good and there was no reason to pursue a relationship if she wasn’t willing to move. She joyfully consented, we married a year later and in 2017 we even bought a house with the intention of being here for decades. We wanted to use it to serve our church and community and not just to grow a family. We often called it our “forever home.” “Home” has been such a significant word to me in Chicago, and specifically at Northwest Community Church. When I see my family at Christmas and then leave to come back, they know that is where I am going–home. Finding out last summer that our son Liam would be added all this just made our lives beyond fulfilled.

But several things have happened in the last few months that changed everything. The details would be boring and aren’t essential for this article. But the gist of it is that both my wife and I began to feel weighed down by the heaviness of the very things we were in Chicago to do. My wife has dealt with unrelenting, overwhelming stress the entire four years she’s been here and new trials have been thrown at her no matter how hard she has tried to find relief. I changed jobs to teach from home and to make more money to provide, but my new job required more overnight hours, taking a lot out of me. I could minister to my wife more effectively before. Now, it was becoming harder.

Around November, it was becoming obvious to me that trying to balance my ministry as a volunteer pastor-elder, my job as an English teacher and my role as a husband and soon-to-be-father was taking more out of me than I probably could stand longterm. On a particularly stressful day where my wife was beyond frayed, and I had zero left in my tank after a weekend full of overnight teaching and church ministry and meetings, I just blurted out, “Maybe we should move.” The weight of that statement was stunning because we had never seriously considered it. It was not a rational statement. It was said in frustration. But it was the first step in a series of conversations we had over a couple of months where we talked about what life would be like if we moved. We began to consult wise people in our life, people we knew would tell us the truth even if it wasn’t what we wanted to hear. The fruit of all of these conversations was that in order for us to be healthy, and to be the spouses and parents we really wanted to be, something had to give. My role in the church, as crucial as it was to my spiritual development for 17 years, was the most expendable.

There are two things I really want people to know about this decision. I realize I should not care too much what people think, but I still have been advised that it is wise to be proactive in protecting my family. As I think about Joseph in the Gospels, staying with Mary knowing that people would not understand why he did it and would likely gossip, it occurs to me that sometimes people do not understand decisions we make for our families and sometimes we just have to take the hits. Yet I know there are mature friends and family out there who will read this and take it to heart.

First, I want people to know that we are not leaving because we are afraid to raise Liam in Chicago. The very opposite is true. It has been my dream since before I ever met Kayla to raise my children bilingually, and not merely academically at home, but in the real world context of my church where people from different languages sacrifice for each other. If there is one thing about this decision that kills me more than others, it is that Liam will never know Chicago as his home. The place that I loved with my whole heart and poured blood, sweat and tears into for 17 years will only be known to him in stories and short visits. That breaks my heart unlike anything has in a while. Every time I have told someone of this decision, this is the part that causes me to become emotionally unglued. Northwest is by far the best place I know of to raise my son. I can still raise him to value people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, but there will never ever be another church like Northwest to me in this regard. It was the church that took me straight out of college knowing little about how to be a pastor and how big the world is and discipled me to value the things I do. We are not leaving Chicago so Liam can be safe. I feel safe in my neighborhood but even if I didn’t the risk would be worth it. Safety for myself or my family is not high on my list of priorities. This was not part of the decision making.

Secondly, my fear is that since I was in Chicago 13 years before Kayla and I got married, and I trumpeted to anyone who would listen how I planned to live the rest of my life here, that people will think Kayla asked for this or manipulated it somehow. The truth is that if I could live anywhere in the world I would choose Chicago without batting an eye. My wife would not. But she married me with the intention of going the distance and if I asked her to stay for 40 years she would have. She has never asked me to move or pressured me in any subtle or overt way. I brought up the idea out of concern for her and for us (our marriage and soon to be all three of us), and she pushed back at every turn. She doesn’t want me to be unhappy so she constantly challenged me on if this was the right thing to do. She did not move to Chicago to be a part of a church, primarily, like I did. She moved to get married. But she bought into what Northwest does and she sacrificed heavily for four years to make it work, giving up Saturday evenings—her only day off—to practice on the worship team and sitting in a Sunday School class where she often didn’t understand the language. She was ready to be here indefinitely. But I do not think it is fair at this point to ask that of her.

We offer no platitudes, cliches or Bible College verbiage about “God’s will” or being at peace about this decision. As Haddon Robinson once said, Jesus proves you can be in the middle of God’s will and be so stressed that you sweat blood, and Jonah proves you can be out of God’s will and be so at peace that you can sleep on a boat. This decision has caused suffering for both of us like few things have. But ultimately all of the reasons I could come up with to stay were selfish and beneficial more for me than for my family. Moving seems to be what is best for all three of us at this juncture.

I am more than willing to discuss this further with anyone who may want to talk about it with me. Feel free to contact me if you have my cell number or email or want to PM me on Facebook. Decision making can be messy in God’s kingdom so it’s not a neat and tidy event. It was not this time. But it yielded a result that I think will please God.




Five Things I Assumed About My Newborn That Proved to Be False

On January 18th of this year, I became a dad for the first time. To say I knew nothing about babies is barely hyperbole. I knew very little. I’d spent maybe 30 minutes total in my four-decade-life holding them. I’d never changed a diaper. I tried to read some of my wife’s books but they bored me to tears. Yet simply applying common sense I thought some things about a newborn would be true. I had fewer assumptions about the stages after that, but newborns are simple, right? Not even close. I have stood corrected and humbled but in magnificent ways. Here are five assumptions I had that have proven to be false.


1. I assumed this stage would be a little boring.

They eat, sleep, and poop. And that’s it. What else could there be? I’ll have to wait until he could talk or play before I would be stimulated by him, surely.

Wrong. As a person with zero parenting experience, I woefully underestimated how entertaining every little thing my baby does would be. I had seen this mocked on TV before, but it makes total sense why even the most mundane, normal things they do are seriously entertaining in real life. Like when my son sneezes twice and then coos. Or when he yawns. Or sighs. Or when he screams bloody murder for a bottle and then when he gets it puts on an expressionless face where you would never guess two seconds earlier he was grimacing, red, and yelling as though we were hurting him. All of these things intoxicate me and some of them make me laugh. I could stare at my son for hours, watching him flap his arms or look around or just lie there completely content. Every day floods my heart with joy, even when there are some extremely tough but fleeting emotional moments (like several nights when he didn’t sleep well and we were exasperated).


2. I assumed I would not be able to take care of him for extended stretches.

I work night shift teaching ESL to kids in China in addition to volunteering as a church pastor, so it was on the table that when my wife went back to work I could possibly take care of him during the day. I balked at that, not out of some misplaced sense of gender roles (though I will add this was going to be temporary, as I plan to end up with a job with a more normal schedule), but because I felt my ignorance about newborns rendered me unqualified and would be unfair to my son.

However, while the mental toughness aspect of parenting a newborn can be hard, much of the actual care is not. The things I didn’t know I learned quickly and some things my wife and I are learning as we go. The cliche is that they do not come with instructions and while there is a ton of wisdom out there for us to follow, there are a lot of gaps to fill through trial and error. I am fully qualified as his dad to do just about anything, and the idea of taking care of him alone for eight hours at a time isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.


3. I assumed diaper changes would gross me out beyond comprehension.

I have a very weak stomach. I do not handle gore or defecation or vomit well, in movies much less in 3D real life. The stories veteran parents would tell me about babies pooping in tubs and having blowouts so bad that it was up the baby’s back terrified me.

And while I won’t pretend it isn’t hard, and while I definitely do not take the annoying suburban mother on Seinfeld stance—“Because it comes out of your baby it isn’t gross”—it isn’t as bothersome as I would have guessed. It’s not like I’m super excited to change a bad diaper but at the same time, I can do it with a minimal negative reaction. I do have to talk to myself when the dirty diaper is really bad and my running commentary entertains my wife, but that is much different than being overly grossed out. Much like my answer when people ask how I deal with Chicago winter, I say, “I just do it. Because I have to.”


4. I assumed simple tasks like feeding him would be straightforward.

Ha! That’s all I have to say to that. My son came 23 days early and that should have been a sign that he was going to do things his way and on his own timetable. Sometimes Liam will down four ounces in 15 minutes. Sometimes he will take an hour and a half to do two. Sometimes he will go for five hours without eating, sometimes only two. Sometimes he latches immediately to the bottle; other times he will fight and struggle with it. I can’t figure any of it out. The older he gets, feeding time in general has gotten easier but in the earliest newborn stage it was supremely unpredictable.


5. I assumed that I would not be overly affectionate.

I’ve never been that affectionate with any baby, including my own nieces and nephews. And with a few exceptions, I’m not affectionate with adults. But some kind of flip switched in me the day Liam was born. I kiss him all the time. I tell him I love him several times a day. Without even trying I often sound exactly like my mother, who has a very distinct vernacular and tone of voice when talking to babies. As Liam gets older I am sure I will have to seek wisdom on how to navigate some of this (I will always tell him that I love him, no matter what, but kissing him may change), but right now I am enjoying the unfiltered opportunity to be as physically and verbally affectionate as I can. All he can do in response is let me! 


I am sure that I will carry new assumptions into each stage and that my unique child created in the image of God will keep humbling me. And I am looking forward to it. The ride through eight weeks has been exhilarating.




Why We Named Our Son Liam Erasmus

I asked my mother once why they named me Gowdy and she replied, quite simply, “Because we thought you’d be different.” Named for my great-grandfather’s surname, I did not like it growing up. But after finding out the why, I embraced it. Since then, my name has mattered to me.

This is how it should have been from the beginning, and I just needed to grow up some. Names have mattered throughout human history to all types of cultures and even in the Bible. Because of this, when it came time to name my first child, a son, I had a few criteria in mind.

First, I wanted him to be named for someone or someones who made a difference either to my wife and me or within human history. Notably Christian history. Secondly, I really wanted a name that was different. No doubt the love I have for my own unique name drives this. Names like John and Stephen are solid names, but I wanted something a little more out of the common way.

My wife had her own criteria and coming together to discuss it, we had a bit of a time agreeing for a while. She didn’t like the name I really wanted but slowly conceded it as a middle name. The first name took a while. Her opinion was going to weigh heavier since she gave me the middle name but she wanted something I still liked.

So after several months and few mind changes, we settled on Liam Erasmus. This name, especially the middle one, tends to have people ask about its origin. Hence, this article.

The first name is pretty simple. It is a name we both liked and while popular in America, it is not a name many people we know have used. Her grandfather, whom I’ve gotten to be close to over the last five years, is named William. So it is to honor him as well.

The middle name is from a Dutch Christian man that lived 500 years ago, who has fascinated me for a long time. His full name was Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, and when I was at Bible College earlier nearly 20 years ago, he was frequently a topic of conversation between me and my friends Brett, Kiley, and Charles. Erasmus was a brilliant man and was well read and well learned in arts, languages, literature and other Renaissance type areas of knowledge. He reminded me of people like Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (also of the book of Daniel), of whom it is written: “These four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.” The crowning jewel of Erasmus’s labor in this realm is his published Greek New Testament, which has had an impact in Bible translations and Bible reading for five centuries, even into the English speaking world. If you know and love the King James Version Bible or have heard the phrase Textus Receptus, you owe a debt to Erasmus.

Beyond this I deeply appreciate how Erasmus, a Catholic, walked a middle road between theological extremes of his day, pushing back against misdeeds in his church without abandoning it to join the Reformers. Even though I side theologically with the Reformation. He seemed to believe you can change an organism from the inside out if you put up with some of its bigger issues without ignoring them. That can be wise and it requires maturity.

He also championed free will over predestination and debated Luther about it. Having read that debate, I love Erasmus’s thinking and many of his conclusions.

I do not want to live vicariously through my son Liam but I also hope that by giving him the name Erasmus, he grows up to appreciate who his namesake was and what he did. I hope Liam takes to languages, not just Spanish and Mandarin, but also Greek and Latin. I hope he loves classic literature like Moby Dick and The Lord of the Rings (he will love Harry Potter, a modern classic, if I have anything to say about it). I hope he is willing make two extremes angry on many issues by trying to find the nuanced middle and by trying to change things from the inside out instead of running for greener pastures. (Though I hasten to add that sometimes leaving a church, group or movement may be necessary for some.)

I know very little about parenting. The journey is just beginning. But I know that names matter. That is why my wife and I took so long to decide on our son’s name and why we named him after two men who have had deep impact into our lives.




Five Reasons Being a Dad is Awesome

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:3-5)

Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote those words. I happen to agree with him completely and not just because I believe God inspired his words. I’ve lived them out and seen those words proved true in my own life. I am a father. Very few sentences I can conjure make me happier than that one.

I love being a dad. I’ve written about being a dad before for Rambling Ever On. If you have paid any attention to those articles, you will already know that I have three boys. (It’s okay if you haven’t paid attention. One of my boys never reads anything I write.) My oldest is 15. My youngest is 9. The middle child – my kindred spirit since I too am a middle child – just turned 14. I cannot imagine my life without my boys. I really can’t. I don’t want to think about how boring everything would be if I didn’t have kids. I’ve learned a lot about the world since I became a father. I’ve learned a lot more about myself. Here are five of the biggest reasons being a dad has been so amazing.


Being a dad helped me appreciate home.

The Lytles are homebodies. We make no excuses for that either. We love being with our family in our home. We probably confound some people in that we are willing to sacrifice doing things or going places simply to be home with each other. We’ve not allowed our boys to participate in good things because we value our time together as a family. I realize that is probably somewhat countercultural. I’m okay with that. It’s a parenting/marriage philosophy that we have developed over time. I’m not a social butterfly, by any means, but before we had kids we did stuff. We really did! We went out. We went to movies. I’ve attended dozens and dozens of concerts or sporting events. I tend to turn those down now unless it’s a very special situation – because I want to have more time with my family. Call me weird. It’s okay. I’m fine with being weird. Weird’s all I’ve got. That and my sweet style.


It gives my wife and me something to talk about.

This one sounds bad without explanation, so, allow me to explain. My wife and I talk about all sorts of things – our jobs, our church, theology, politics, sports, movies, music, etc… You get the picture. I’ve read some parenting experts suggest that on date nights it’s best not to talk about your kids. I think that is rubbish. We love talking about our kids. We talk about the things going on in their lives. Their triumphs and struggles. The funny things they say or do and how they make us laugh. We aren’t putting our relationship on hold to focus more on our kids. Our kids are an integral part of our marriage relationship and we would be doing it a disservice if we tried to pretend that they did not exist when we have some “alone” time.


Being a dad has helped me grow up.

Prior to having children, technically speaking, I was a man. I had my first child when I was 25 years old. I was a man. (No jokes, please.) I had a full-time job. I was married. I did adult things. Yet I didn’t really grow up until my son was born. It wasn’t a lightning strike kind of moment, but things crystallized for me in a way they never had before. I was now responsible for another life. That does something to you. It did to me. Adding two more boys to the mix only helped in this regard. I am now the most mature man in the world! (Again, no jokes please.)


Being a dad helps me stay young.

Plot twist! I am more responsible and more mature than before my kids were alive, yet having kids has helped keep me young at heart. I have the tendency to internalize things, stew on them. I can be a bit melancholy if left to my own devices. I am so thankful that I am not left to my own devices. There’s just no room for my devices with three boys running around the house shooting nerf guns at each other. I get to see life through their eyes and it’s amazing. Life is wide open for them with endless possibilities. I am blessed to be able to experience all of that with them. I love that I get to crack jokes, throw them the football outside, and act in ridiculous ways that drive their mother crazy. Take a few moments to pray for her – she lives with animals.


Being a dad has strengthened my relationship with God.

I understood God’s love, mercy, grace, and reproof prior to having children of my own, but it was a limited understanding – like the proverbial dark glass. I still don’t understand all those things as deeply as I should, but becoming a dad has made that glass a little less dark. I know what it feels like to be completely FOR my children. They are precious to me in ways that I did not know were possible. I want what is best for them, so much so, that it hurts me deeply when they hurt, when they struggle, and when they fall. I ache for them. That is but a pale reflection of how God feels about me. I’ve also come to understand God’s discipline better. At my best, I don’t punish my kids capriciously or in anger. I do it with love and gentleness. Our Heavenly Father does this and more. He disciplines those He loves. And His hands heal the wounds of discipline. I will be their champion and I will guide their steps until they are ready to walk on their own. That is my divine calling as a father.


Those are just five of the dozens of reasons I am so happy to be a dad. I love my family. I love my kids. Being a dad has made me a better man, a better husband, and a better Christian. I know that in this day it is easy to look at children and families and see them as weights – things that are holding us back from living a truly fulfilled life. I find that to be unspeakably sad. Not everyone is called to fatherhood or even marriage, but those of us who are, we need to appreciate the great blessing and responsibility we have been given. It’s not all fun and games though, and there are any number of things dads need to do so their families do not become a burden or a source of stress and sadness. But, at the end of the day, our job is to be obedient to the Scriptures and leave the rest in the hands of our Heavenly Father. Do me a favor though, in the middle of all that, take some time to appreciate what you have been given. Enjoy those wonderful arrows in your quiver. They are a gift from the Lord.




Go Big in the Little Things

A few years ago (nearly eight to be specific) I wrote about cereal on my personal blog. At that time, my boys and I ate a lot of cereal. We still do – them more than me. You can read that story here.

My middle son still eats cereal every day. He gets up in the morning, fixes a bowl of cereal, sits down on the couch, turns on the television (WKRN – Channel 2 – in Nashville), and gets caught up on the morning news, the weather, and the traffic. He is 13 and 75 all at the same time. He also eats a bowl of cereal most evenings as well, after we have finished supper. And occasionally, he gets a bowl for his afternoon snack. He eats a lot of cereal.

My oldest son eats just as much, if not more, simply because he just eats more in general than his younger brother. Between the two of them, plus whatever the rest of us in the family eat, we go through 6 or 7 boxes of cereal a week, give or take a box or two. And if you read the article I linked to above, you understand that is okay and part of the plan. My goal as a child was to have a pantry full of cereal boxes. Seinfeld levels of cereal boxes.

My dream has been realized for sure. I have passed along this dream to my children and I hope they pass it along to theirs in the future.

But this isn’t about cereal – as awesome as it is. I don’t think it would be in anyone’s best interest for me to write another article about cereal. (We have a Top Ten Cereal List already published on REO. Read it here.) No, cereal is not the point.

I am the one that handles grocery shopping for my family. My wife and I used to do it together but she doesn’t enjoy it and I was willing to take on that responsibility. One of my great joys in life is to come home with the groceries and see my sons’ reactions when they help unload all that food. Before they unpack anything else, they find the cereal. They are desperate to find out what cereal I brought home. Especially the middle one. I can make or break his day depending on my cereal selection. If I do well, he is bubbly and dancing and smiling. If I do poorly, he gets quiet and mopey. Because of this, though he is learning to not allow minor things like this to affect his emotions, I do my best to bring home at least a few kinds of cereal that I know he will enjoy. I do this because I love him and I enjoy seeing him happy. I realize it’s a little thing, but I believe if we try hard in the little things, over time, they become building blocks for the big things.

My wife loves McDonald’s Coke. She is a woman of virtually no vices, but she has a weakness for a cold Coca-Cola from McD’s. (Their mix is the best around.) If I am on my game as a husband, I will remember to stop by a McDonald’s on my way home and pick up a Coke for her. As with the cereal and my kids, this is not a big deal. In fact, it’s such a tiny thing that it would be easy to overlook. But I think overlooking these little things is a good way to take things for granted, and trust me, I overlook these little things way too often. It’s a learning experience for sure. But by doing the little things, it helps me be aware of and attentive to the bigger things.

There are a million ways you can go big in the little things. I buy gum at the grocery store every so often because I know how much my youngest son loves it. My wife rubs my head when we are watching TV together because she knows it relaxes me. These little things take many forms. It could be anything really. The important part is that you are paying attention. And that “paying attention” is appreciated and will not go unnoticed. The big things will take way more time and energy and focus on your part but if you have been doing the little things, you’ve built the foundation for the big things already. You’re ahead of the curve. None of this is to say that if you do the little things you will handle the big things well. I’m sure there are people who do all the little things but still mess up big time on the big things. (No pun intended.) Yet I am confident that if you don’t do the little things well, you probably aren’t knocking it out of the park on the big things either.

As silly as cereal, Coke, gum, and head rubs seem, if they are done out of love and genuine affection for others, then they are the least silly things you can do. In fact, overlooking them (and things like them) could be incredibly detrimental to your relationships. Do the little things. Get really good at them. It’s worth it.

 

So what are the little things you do for your loved ones? What are the little things they do for you? We would love to read about it in the comment section below. We are here to learn as much as anything else.

 




Five Things Our Mothers Taught Us

Mothers. None of us would be here if they weren’t around. Am I right or am I right? But our moms are so much more than just the person who brought us into the world. I don’t know about you, but there is a universe of knowledge I gleaned from my mom. For this Mother’s Day, the REO team wanted to honor our moms by relating five of the important lessons we learned from them.


Vickie Speer

When I was around 6 years old or so, I was at the supermarket with Mom, and we had finally made it to the checkout line. I asked her if I could get some Starburst candy, and she flat out said “No”…but I just couldn’t take that for an answer. When she wasn’t looking, I wedged the Starburst in between a few other items on the conveyor belt and hoped she wouldn’t notice.

My devious plans were foiled, but not before the cashier had already scanned the candy into the register. My mom held her up from her scanning, and the cashier asked if she should take it off and shelve it. For some reason, mom left it on the bill and bought it. And then, she didn’t let me have the candy. Oh man, it was so much worse knowing for weeks that the candy was in our possession, sitting alone up in the cupboard. The poor, lonely candy. The poor, deprived child.

I probably learned my lesson: No means no. At the very least, I haven’t forgotten it. Still, once enough time had passed, I snatched the candy out of the cupboard and asked Mom if I could have some, and she just hurriedly unwrapped it and let me eat it. I think she forgot about its significance. I ate it with the weight of shame upon me. How could something so sweet be simultaneously so bittersweet? Cast your pejorative gaze upon my childhood shenanigans and learn, O reader. A Starburst eaten with a clear conscience is worth 500 eaten in shame. (D.A. Speer)


Betty Lou Plunkett

When we were kids Mom told us that “Here at The Rock, we have two basic rules. The first rule is: obey all rules. Secondly: Do not write on the walls, as it takes a lot of work to erase writing off of the walls.” Just kidding. That’s Barney Fife. Though she kept decided discipline and order, Mom was definitely not a Barney Mom, constantly spouting off rules, regulations, and long rants of “wisdom.” Mom was not one to dole out a lot of such talk and sage quotable diatribes. Her wisdom was largely displayed through how she lived. Most of what I learned from her I learned by watching her live life and interact with those around her. And I learned so much. One of the ways she most impacted me was via her enduring innate joyfulness and contentment in all situations no matter how dark. Mom had been through a lot of heavy moments in her life: Months in the hospital as a child after accidentally drinking a glass of lye soap; months worth of hours spent in the hospital with me for various reasons; raising four kids; years of serving as a home missionary, foreign mission, and teacher; and finally lymphatic cancer. Yet, for as long as I knew her (since 1973) she always maintained her contented spirit. This is not to say she never got sad or anything like that. Yet even in sadness, there was always that feeling of joy radiating from her. No matter how dark situations got, she had a way of making it feel like matters weren’t that bad. This was even true with her final battle with cancer. Like Paul the Apostle, she had learned the secret of being content even in the darkest moment. That secret was their hope in Jesus. Her contentment and joy came to a head just minutes before she died. During those moments she expressed an almost rapturous joy in Jesus, and we who were present could almost see heaven itself. (Ben Plunkett)


Yvonne Cannon

I remember once my senior year in high school my best friends Wade and John came over one afternoon on a school day – I don’t recall why – but they ended up staying for dinner even though we hadn’t planned for them to do so. My mother cooked extra without even a second thought. Then, again without really planning it, they slept over. On a school night.

The reasons these things happened is because my mother created a home environment where people felt welcomed to treat it like it was theirs. My living room was often packed with our friends on weekend nights when we were teenagers. Some of our friends didn’t even knock when they came over. People of other races and ethnicities were welcomed into our home. My dad’s hunting buddies, Super Bowl parties, Seinfeld finale parties, Bible College visitors, church prayer times…our house was (and still is) constantly being used to host people. Even though our house was well kept, even when my mother worked full time, we worried far less about stains on the carpet and spills in the kitchen than we did about making sure everyone in Turbeville, SC knew there was a place where all were welcome. My dad is a great man, but my mother was the main reason this was so.

So of the million things I have learned from her, most of them from observation and not words, hospitality rises to the top. It takes humility and sacrifice to open up your home to so many people. It’s supremely inconvenient. I wish I could say I appreciated it back then, but I do now. It’s one of the most Jesus-like things about my mother’s life. And one I hope to emulate here in Chicago. (Gowdy Cannon)


Judy Lytle

There is nothing more empowering than hearing the words “you are good at…” It may even be more important for a parent to affirm the things their children do well than to correct their short-comings. As a teen, I more or less floated through life. I am not particularly athletic, musical, or creative. I was fairly shy and just starting to take an interest in academics. Some people can do well just about anything they attempt. Well, I had (have) very few skills. I just was. When I was in high school, my mother told me that I would make a good history teacher or perhaps a good chef. Studying history and cooking were two things I did well and loved doing. That conversation with my mother established the trajectory of my life. This morning I got up early to pray with 30 of my students before taking their AP United States History exam. I also baked them homemade cinnamon rolls. It has been 20 years since my mother said, “You are good at…” but I am living out the empowerment from that conversation nearly every day. (David Lytle)

 

My mom is the hardest worker I know. If there is a job to do, she does it. If there is a meal to make, a person to visit, a floor to tile, a room to paint, a class to teach… You get the point. Unfortunately, I did not inherit that impressive work ethic from my mother. In my defense, no one in the history of the world has a work ethic like my mother, but it would have been nice to get even 50% of the inner drive she possesses. Also in my defense, I do work very hard if it is for something I love. But my mom works hard period. Full stop. Love or no love, she jumps into every task as if it is the most important thing in the world. And while I don’t have that same character trait, I do have the best example anyone could ask for to push me, nudge me, and even unintentionally shame me a little into working harder on things that I don’t love that much. (Phill Lytle)




On Brotherhood, Inside Jokes and Built-In Best Friends For Life

Michael: What comes before anything? What have we always said is the most important thing?

George Michael: Breakfast.

Michael: Family.

George Michael: Family, right. I thought you meant of the things you eat.

 

Last Saturday night, as the clock struck 11:00 PM in Chicago, meaning it was midnight in South Carolina, I posted seemingly random lyrics of a 1990s Blackhawk song called “Postmarked Birmingham” to my brother Jeremy’s Facebook wall. The following morning, I texted him different lyrics from the same song. He was not confused by any of this, because it is sort of a tradition between us. The reason it wasn’t random is that the song, which is about a man who gets a letter from a woman who left him and he has no idea why she’s writing from Alabama, mentions the date April 22. So every year on that date, we share a childhood memory, a song we bonded over. And also of the CD that I desecrated by listening to before giving it to him as a Christmas gift. Which he will never let me live down.

I love inside jokes. I realize they are annoying if you’re on the outside so I try to keep them to a minimum in public. And while I share them with all sorts of people in my life, there is no doubt that the deepest versions I have are the ones that I share with those who were there every step of the way from the time I was old enough to have memories until the day I departed for college in Nashville: my four siblings.

Quite often when my brothers Jeremy, Ashley and I are texting, if two of us disagree about something, the third one will reply, “I’m with you fellas”. Because we have laughed together at O Brother Where Art Thou? several times together. (Sometimes there doesn’t have to be a disagreement and it just gets worked in the conversation anyway.) Similar are the phrases “Seven Bushes” and “No more questions” from My Cousin Vinny. And I’m pretty sure when each of us turned 33 years old, one of the other two was there to text, “Today…he is…33 years old!” from Three Amigos.

It’s not all TV and movies either. When we were very young, I once chased Jeremy through the house, angry at him. When we got to our bedroom he fell down so hard the whole house shook. He was completely still for a few seconds and I was terrified he was seriously hurt. Then he finally peeked at me and piped up, “I shook the whole house!” And I can still text him those words today and we laugh about it. On another occasion, Ashley and I were playing basketball with some friends and an older guy we knew, who was clearly out of shape, stepped on the court and said, “Let’s see if I can still get rim.” He clearly couldn’t and probably never could, which made the scene quite unintentionally funny. And so this quote has come up during basketball many times. And then there was the time in the 80s we were eating at our family’s favorite seafood buffet and another group got seated just after us. And one of the men boisterously and half-jokingly complained to the hostess, “We’re six miles from the buffet!” Except he said “buffet” the way it looks phonetically. That comes up every time we eat seafood even now.

My brother Tracy is ten years older than me and was in college by the time I was in third grade but we still share these moments. Over 20 years ago at the beach were staying in an oceanfront house. And an older lady was out sunbathing just in front, really close to us. As we stood there on the second-floor porch, Tracy dared me $5 to hit her with a tennis ball. I obviously declined. But later when the ball really did fall from the porch and I had to go down to get it, I threw it back up to Tracy and it hit the ledge of the porch, ricocheted back towards the ground and hit the woman, who for some reason got really mad about it. Tracy gave me the $5 and we still laugh about it in 2018.

My sister, Kim, is the only sister but we still have our inside jokes, too. Once, not long after she got married I was hanging out at her house. She needed some meat from her freezer, which was in a separate storage room off of the house. I went out to get it and there were wasps. Being terrified of them I reported back with no meat. Kim, who is also terrified of them, decided the situation called for desperate measures. We put on raincoats and hats and gloves–basically, we covered every part of our bodies–and armed ourselves with brooms and mops. And we successfully procured the meat. And Kim loves telling that story to this day.

Another time we were sharing a room at the National Free Will Baptist Convention with her husband Mark and their daughter Camille. Kim bought three 24-count bags of sugar donuts for the week. At the end of the week, they were all gone. Camille claimed to have eaten zero. Mark said he had about six. So that meant between Kim and I, we ate approximately 66 sugar donuts in four days. We agreed to assume we both ate 33 so no one had to take the blame for eating the most. And to this day, we can’t talk about sugar donuts without laughing.

All inside jokes are not funny, though. Some are extremely meaningful in a more serious way. A few years ago when I was home for Christmas, Jeremy introduced me to a song that was a “Stopped Me In My Tracks” song for him, as Phill wrote about for REO. He had me listen to it. And after hearing it, he and I made a vow that any time one of us hears “Colder Weather” by the Zac Brown Band, we will pray for the other one. We text each other that title every now and then to remind each other of our vow. Jeremy even eventually made the song his ring tone so he would pray for me often.

The picture from above is from the 2013 Outback Bowl when Jadaveon Clowney knocked the Michigan RB’s helmet off on a spectacular play that has been viewed millions of times on Youtube. The Gamecocks won the game on a Steve Spurrier drawn up and dialed up bomb with 11 second left. But neither of those plays were what made the day truly special. It was getting to share those moments with my brothers and my dad. I don’t remember it but after Clowney made the hit and forced the fumble, Ashley says that I said, “Who was that guy?!?” As if it was to say that it was so amazing I had to ask, even though I knew. Like responding to a superhero moment. It was a special time to relive over and over.

 

When I got married in 2015, Ashley gave one of the best men speeches and said our mother always told us when we were fighting as children that our siblings would be our best friends when we were adults. She was right. Boy, was she ever right. Because Kim, Tracy, Ashley and Jeremy absolutely know what I think of them. That no matter what happens, or how far from South Carolina I am, that, “I’m with you fellas”. They truly are my best friends for life.

 

 

 

 




Five Parenting “Do’s”

Parenting is difficult, yet sometimes we make it much more difficult than it needs to be. I am not trying to minimize complex and challenging situations. I am blessed to have three very well-adjusted and compliant children. I realize that not everyone shares my experience. Yet the point still stands: we complicate and overthink things sometimes. There are a handful of common sense things parents should not do, as there are some things parents should strive to do. Here are five things I have noticed in my time parenting that have produced good results. Hopefully this will be a help to other parents out there. Some of these things, maybe all, will not be brand new to you, but sometimes a reminder is just as important.


1. Love them sacrificially.

As stated above, some of these “do’s” will seem obvious, but it’s in the little details that we lose sight of the big picture. All good parents love their children. All good parents sacrifice for their children. Not all good parents do those things as consistently as they probably should. I don’t. Sometimes we have to be willing to sacrifice our time, our wants, our needs to enable our children to live their fullest life. That doesn’t mean we cater to them and their every whim though. (More on that a little later.) It does mean that at times, to show our children how much we love them, we give up our television time to play a game with them. It means that we go to school plays to support them, we attend their sporting events, we find odd jobs to help pay for their mission trip. The list goes on and on. Good parents do those things. Our children need to see self-sacrificial love played out in front of them at home. It will leave life-long marks on them.

2. Instill a proper sense of self-worth.

This is the flip side to point one. We do our children no favors if we teach them, whether by words or by actions, that they are the most important people in the world. In this day and age, self-esteem is a big deal, and parents are encouraged and told to make their kids feel like the most special and unique little treasures in the whole wide world. Parents fill their days inventing new ways to make little Johnny happy. Ways to keep Janie fulfilled and content. We do that by taking them to every event, every party, every activity. We do that by giving them everything they could ever want or need. We do that by refusing to accept their failures and using them as teachable moments and instead we find someone else to blame for the times they come up short.

This is all garbage.

Our children should feel loved, always. Our children should feel protected, always. Our children should know their true worth, always. Their true worth comes from their Creator and the fact that they were fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. They are special, but not because the world revolves around them. They are special because the person the world does revolve around loves them and made them to be His unique image bearers on the earth.

3. Say no.

This is not new or novel or original, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Children want what they want and they want it right then. Sometimes, many times, giving them that thing they want is not in their best interest. Be an adult and learn how to say no. Now, some parenting experts advise against using negative words like “no”, instead opting for positive ways to redirect. I’m no parenting expert but in their life, once they leave your home, your children will be told no on an almost daily basis. It’s part of life. Training them for 18 plus years without ever saying no is a massive disservice to their formation. It’s okay to be the “bad guy” sometimes. You are their parent, not their friend.

4. Prepare them for failure.

Your child will not be great at everything. There will be areas of life where they struggle. It might be academic, or athletic, or even social. Don’t shield them from their failures. Don’t minimize them, hide them, or blame others. Let them own their shortcomings. Not in a mean or critical way, but in a way that lets them know that they are not perfect and there are just some things they cannot do. The Disney philosophy that teaches us that anyone can do anything as long as they believe is incomprehensibly stupid and borderline evil. We can’t all be NBA players. We can’t all be professional musicians. Teach your children to work hard, as hard as they can, but to understand that some things will be out of their reach. Some things are beyond their skill. And that is totally okay. It does not make them less than. It does not mean they are worthless. Help them find those things they are good at. Direct their energy towards areas where they are skilled. Challenge them to dream big. But let them fail. Let them learn that life is not always “fair.” Don’t handicap them with built in excuses about how the world is against them when things don’t go their way.

5. Say you’re sorry.

This one is probably the most difficult of all. We mess up. We mess up at our jobs. We mess up at home. We mess up as parents. We need to model repentance with our children. When we screw up with our kids, tell them. Ask their forgiveness. Say you are sorry. This teaches them that we will never get to a point in our lives where we are above mistakes and failings, but it will also teach them that there is forgiveness and restoration if repentance is sought. Our children need to see our broken hearts. They need to see our acknowledgement of sin and failures. They need to have faith that we hold ourselves to the same standards we are holding them. If you have not done this before, it will be very difficult the first few times. Do it enough and it will feel completely natural. God will bless a home that is transparent and accountable.


Hopefully these five things are already a part of your parenting life. If not, I hope something in here will help you in your journey. Please share your comments and ideas below. I love to interact with other parents and learn ways to better myself as a father.




The Annual Super Awesome Film Festival: Making Wiser Movie Choices

I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating: I love movies. In some ways, I am probably a little too in love with movies. Many jokes have been made at my expense at my single-minded obsession with The Lord of the Rings Movies. I’m not that compulsive with all movies, but I watch, think about, and discuss movies more than most people I know. It only seemed natural then, to share that love of movies with my kids.

I’ve watched movies or television shows with my boys since they were little. When they were young, we watched things they enjoyed and I had to sit patiently and long for the day when I could introduce them to the things I loved and enjoyed. I jumped the gun a few times though. I watched the Star Wars films with my middle son when he was too young to appreciate them. His older brother loved them, but it has taken him time to even tolerate them, all because he wasn’t ready. Similarly, I thought my oldest son was ready for The Lord of the Rings, but I was proven wrong when he completely freaked out over Bilbo trying to take the ring away from Frodo in Rivendell. For those that have seen the film, you know the scene I am referencing. Kindly, old Bilbo, fueled by his desire for the ring of power, transforms into a snarling, angry creature. It is a shocking moment and it caught my son completely by surprise. He had nightmares about that scene for a very long time afterwards. I felt like a complete failure for not recognizing how that scene, or other scenes, could potentially horrify him. It was after that traumatic event, I decided that I needed to do better. I needed to be more thoughtful about what we watched and when we watched.


It was around this time that one of my favorite film critics, Drew McWeeny, started writing a series called Film Nerd 2.0. While I didn’t always agree with what films he introduced to his boys, and I would have pretty strong reservations about endorsing the entirety of his approach, the specific, thought-out system he created appealed to me. I knew my version would look different, but he had inspired me to do this whole “watching movies with my kids” thing better.

The Super Awesome Film Festival was born

Five years ago, I kicked off our very first Annual Super Awesome Film Festival ©. We held the festival over the summer, when the boys had later bed times and our schedules were not as busy. For that first Festival, I chose four movies to watch over one weekend. At that time, my youngest son was only four years old, so he would only watch one of the films. I chose a couple films that were new to the older boys, one favorite that they wanted to see again, and one that my youngest had not seen but would hopefully enjoy. We made a big deal out of the whole thing – we bought popcorn and movie theater style candy. We had drinks aplenty. The entire event was a huge success and has since become an annual tradition.

The film selection has grown and expanded with each year. The following year, I even made a simple poster for the Festival.

Click to enlarge

That year, my youngest was able to watch two of the films in the lineup – Willow and Peter Pan. He enjoyed both of them and proclaimed them the best movies he had ever seen. He has since adjusted his rankings a bit. The older two fell in love with Remember the Titans in a way that I did not expect. I figured they would like it, but their level of passion for that film took me by surprise.

Each year I have attempted to introduce new types of films to the boys, not just the action/adventure films they love so much. As they get older and able to handle more difficult and complex storytelling, I will challenge them with lesser known gems or films way outside of their interests. Besides having a good time with my kids, I hope that the films we watch serve as a chance for discussion and inquiry. I still do my best to balance the festivals with plenty of fun and exciting stuff, but I don’t want to limit our viewing to only one style of film.

This year we are finally watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe films with my youngest son, who turned eight a few weeks ago. Almost all of his friends at school have seen these films – some starting back when they were three or four years old. I chose to wait, convinced that he would enjoy them but not truly appreciate them as much as he could at that young age. Plus, all of the films, while very clean, have content that is just too much for someone that young. The older boys are watching the Marvel films with us, so I will also select a couple of films to watch with just them that will keep them on their toes and engage a different part of their mind and heart. While the Annual Film Festival has been the primary example of my adjusted approach to movie watching with my kids, I now work through a similar process any time we watch something.


What we watch matters

As a Christian, I believe that what we consume – physically, mentally, or otherwise – affects us. I believe that as a father, it is my responsibility to develop discernment and wisdom in my children. Right now, I am their guardian and their protector. For the most part I can control what enters their eyes and ears. There are various approaches that I have seen for how to do this.

There is the avoidance approach – shielding our children’s eyes from anything and everything potentially dangerous. Building a wall around them so that the sin of the world cannot stain them. The problem with this approach is that sin has already stained them, regardless how much I protect and shield them. And this approach does nothing to help them make good, and Godly, decisions as they age. Instead, it leaves them vulnerable and weak; unable to process and examine the sound and fury the world will throw at them once they are away from the defenses built by their parents.

Then there is the full embrace approach – letting our children watch anything and everything because it’s “just a movie.” This approach goes hand-in-hand with the idea that we turn our brains off when we watch television or movies, simply because we need a way to unwind and relax. This approach exposes our children to content, ideas, and worldviews they are unable to process or examine. They are fed dangerous philosophies about life, religion, faith, morality, and a host of other important things. It’s akin to putting your eight-year-old behind the wheel of a car with no training or practice.

Finally, we have the “examine everything” approach. This approach does not hide from the ugly or the sinful, but uses wisdom and common sense to determine what and when we watch. It puts the onus on the parents to actually think about what they allow their children to watch. Taking it further, we should be on the look out for more than just curse words or dirty jokes. There are plenty of films aimed squarely at families and children that contain no cursing, no sex, and no offensive jokes, but are entirely bankrupt in the philosophy and worldview they present. This approach forces us to do some hard work on the front and back end. We can’t just watch a movie that contains problematic material, and leave it hanging in their minds with no further exploration on our part. As parents, and more importantly, as Christian parents, we are called to do much better.


Final thoughts – One size does not fit all

I don’t want this to seem like I am advocating for my way and only my way. I realize that every parent has a different perspective. That is one reason why I did not delve into checklists or comprehensive guides. What you do needs to work for you and your family. But–and I believe this as strongly as anything I have written–we have to take this seriously. Your approach might vary significantly from mine, but as long as you are approaching it with wisdom and thoughtfulness, I can’t really criticize. The key is that you are thinking about these things. You are engaging with your children and what they are being exposed to. As parents, we have to stop being lazy and complacent about the things our children consume. There is too much power in the things they are seeing, reading, and hearing for us to give anything but our best.

So, develop your own traditions. Hold your own film festival. Do a movie marathon. Do what works for you. I’ll be over at the Lytle house holding the Fifth Annual Super Awesome Film Festival. We’ll be eating popcorn and candy, watching Iron Man and Atticus Finch, and spending some time examining everything carefully and holding on to what is good.

 




The Best Dad in the World’s Blog

What a week! I’m not one to pat myself on the back or anything, but my parenting game was totally on point this week. Just knocked it out of the park time and time again. It’s weeks like this that make me realize how amazing my parenting skills are and how important I am to the lives of my kids. Frankly, without me, I’m not sure there would be any hope for those little monsters!

I don’t really want to take the time to write down every single thing that happened this week, though, it might be wise to do so in case others want to learn from my sterling example down the road. I’ll limit myself to a few classic examples of what I call “Parenting Par Excellence.”

On Monday, the boys and I were sitting down to watch a TV show while eating our supper. (We like to spend as much time as possible watching television together because it really helps us bond. It is much more productive and beneficial than talking, I know that much at least!) One of my boys, I’ll save him the embarrassment by not naming him, was acting a little bratty. He didn’t want to watch the same show as the rest of us. He even got a little smart-mouthed with me about it. I get it; there is a time and place for being a smart-aleck. Sometimes the situation calls for it. It’s usually not cool to be a smart-aleck to your dad though, so I did what every great father before me has done: I unleashed a torrent of sarcasm and smart-aleckness that broke him down and put him in his place for good. He was all teary-eyed and distant the rest of the day, but that’s actually a good thing because it shows that he learned his lesson. He was well and truly humbled.

Later in the week, on a spectacularly beautiful day, the boys kept begging me to go outside and play with them. They wanted me to throw the football to them or something. I usually don’t mind doing this with them as we usually have a pretty good time. There was one problem: I was in the middle of watching a movie on Netflix and I really didn’t want to have to stop and try to pick it up later. My rule in these situations is pretty simple – kids need to learn that most of the time what they want to do is much less important than what their parents want to do. So much so as to render their wants, needs, and desires irrelevant. It’s good for them to be told “no”, even in situations when there really isn’t a good reason for it. Granted, I had a really good reason this time (movie!), but the rule still applies. They were sad and disappointed but that is good for them in the long run. One of my main jobs as a parent is to teach them about life, and we all know that life is full of disappointments. So, I try to disappoint them as often as I possibly can. It is for their own good.

Well, that’s about all I have time to write today. I could go on and on, but honestly, I would much rather get back to scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. A healthy social engagement is incredibly beneficial in these troubled times. I like to have my finger on the pulse of society. Plus, I need some “me” time today after having spent a week pouring my heart and soul into my kids.

Stay blessed!

 

About the Best Dad in the World:
On December 1, 2016,  Phillip Lytle was honored with the prestigious “Best Dad in the World” award by the preeminent parenting organization – the Consortium Rewarding Amazing Parenting. Each year, the winner receives a plaque, a not-so-modest financial prize, and a platform to share their mastery of parenting. This blog is that platform. We hope you enjoy the wisdom contained herein.