Science of Raising Happy Kids

From Happify

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Why Do We Have to Go to Church?

This morning, as we were getting ready for church, our eight year old daughter blew up in frustration and yelled, “Why do we have to go to church?”

Instead of responding with a quick answer, I was actually glad she asked the question. I would rather have my daughters ask good questions  and learn to think for themselves.

After leaving a full-time church job a few months ago, our family hasn’t really had to attend church. Each Sunday we have a choice whether to attend or not. And our girls know that.

So why do we attend church? Even the author Donald Miller has written about his personal struggles with attending church.

This month we are focusing each week on one of our family values. This week we are focused on the value of faith and answering Anna’s question of why we need to go to church is definitely part of the conversation. Notice it is really about why we NEED to attend church instead of HAVE to attend.

So here is my attempt at how I would answer the question of why church attendance is important to our family. Read the rest of this entry

Jeffco Schools and the Search for Leadership

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I am a parent of two daughters in a Jefferson County elementary school. My wife is a paraprofessional at that school. I substitute teach in Jefferson County Schools on occasion. The nonprofit I lead trains and mobilizes reading tutors to work with K-3rd grade students who struggle in reading.

Though I am not a Jeffco graduate myself (Go Arapahoe Warriors!), I care deeply about Jeffco Schools and want to see all 85,000 children succeed in school and in life.

Since the election of three conservative Board of Education members in November and the early resignation of Superintendent Cindy Stevenson this weekend, things are starting to get interesting.

The divisive climate of politics has become local and it is very hard to stay in the middle. The camps are forming. Either you are supportive of the new board majority or you are not. You are with the unions or you are not.

The sad part is that many of us are in the middle. We don’t think charter schools are the magic antidote for education and we support our neighborhood schools.

But we also think that education is due for some reform. Any organization or company needs to remain on the cutting edge to innovate and keep ahead of a changing culture.

I also believe in education innovation when I look at our Edgewater schools. At our three Edgewater schools, over 90% of the children receive free or reduced lunch because of poverty in their families. Yet when you compare the test scores at these three schools with three schools in southwest Littleton where we used to live, you see a big achievement gap.

This is a moral wrong. Children growing up in poverty have every right to a great education. The achievement gap should not exist yet in reality it does.

We have some great teachers and school leaders here in Edgewater but we can do better. I believe that if we can rally our community around our schools and change the education paradigm, we could see the achievement gap bridged.

Continuing to do things the way we always have done it doesn’t cut it anywhere. My daughters’ friends deserve better. Don’t lower your expectations just because we are poor. Right now a Jefferson (our local high school) graduate is on the Colorado Supreme Court, another is a Congressman and yet another is the bodyguard for Peyton Manning. With a great education, imagine where the next Jefferson High graduate might end up.

So circling back to the events of the weekend, I am frustrated on many levels with what happened. What I am most frustrated with is that the focus is now away from the 85,000 kids in our district. Union members are spreading fear and rumors. The three board members are demonized and any change they bring up is automatically thrown out. And because this new majority is silent on their agenda, then people assume the worst.

Finding common ground is possible. I’ve seen it happen in Jeffco Schools in the last month. I am part of the Choice Enrollment Steering Committee and have seen people from different education philosophies work together for 85,000 kids in the district. We sit down and listen to each other without jumping to conclusions. We have built relationships and stay focused on the task that unites us.

To each of the current Jeffco Board of Education members, I implore you to lead and focus the district on the common good of 85,000 children. To the Board majority, build bridges and start to dialogue in public about your ideas for the district. Board President Ken Witt has already started to do this by appearing on KHOW on February 11 (listen here). To the unions in Jeffco, don’t fall to the level of spreading fear and speculation. To quote the wise Yoda, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

What we need right now in Jefferson County Schools is a leader.

Someone to unite our community around the common good of 85,000 children with hopes and dreams.

At this point that leader needs to be one of you sitting on the Board of Education.

Ken Witt. Julie Williams. Lesley Dahlkemper. John Newkirk. Jill Fellman.

Which one of you will step up and lead?

The Secrets of Happy Couples

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Connecting at Church and Wimping Out

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Ever have those moments when you are transported back to your awkward middle school stage? I had one of those tonight. Driving downtown to a brewery, I couldn’t find a parking spot so I just turned around and drove home. I was supposed to meet a group from church that shared my interest in craft beer. But I wimped out.

Connecting into a new church is hard.

For eleven years of marriage, Hillary and I were always part of churches where I worked. Connecting with people took work but is wasn’t that hard because I was on staff. We developed relationships with volunteers or people in that specific ministry area and it happened naturally.

This fall though we started attending a great church just north of us in Arvada called Mile High Vineyard. Walking into church on Sunday mornings for a few weeks we were anonymous which was actually kind of nice. No one had expectations of us. We were just another family at church.

But then Hillary and I realized it was time to be part of the church community not just a place to worship on Sunday mornings. Mile High made it easy to connect and meet staff with a Connect Lunch on the first Sunday of each month. There were only 15 or so of us and we had the opportunity to meet one of the pastors.

We are still trying to figure out how to meet other families. How do you do that? There are so many fears that run through our minds. If we show up to a small group what if they all know each other really well and we don’t fit in? And do we even have time for more relationships when we are trying to connect with our neighbors in meaningful ways?

Our kids are having a hard time too because they are so used to being the pastor’s kids and all their teachers having to report to their dad. They have to figure out their own identity at church which is even harder when they are in separate classes.

All of this has a point.

Connecting into a new church is hard and it takes time for it to happen naturally. It takes effort and it doesn’t happen overnight.

I also think it is important for pastors to understand how hard it is for people to connect into a church. Create easy avenues for new people to connect with other new people. Pastors, if you haven’t experienced what it is like to connect into a new church when you aren’t on staff, listen to the stories of people in your church who have experienced it.

We are meant to be in community. Church isn’t really about singing and listening to a lecture. It is about discipleship that happens in the midst of relationships.

But like everything that is good in this world, it takes work.

Coffee and the Fear of Failure

I’m scared to death.

This week I’ve done something I thought I could never bring myself to do again.

I’ve jumped back into the coffee business.

I’m scared because the last time I jumped into the coffee business, it ended in failure.

In the spring of 2003, two idealist college grads started a coffee bar at Denver Seminary called Kurios Koffee. Drew Moser and I didn’t know much about running a coffee bar but we were crazy enough to jump into it. For two years it went well as Drew and I were the main baristas along with my brother Ben, who we paid in free coffee.

Then Drew graduated seminary and I bought out his portion of Kurios Koffee. Then I started as a full-time youth pastor and started paying employees to run the coffee shop. Three years later, we were up to our ears in debt and the enrollment at Denver Seminary wasn’t growing as we thought it would with a new campus in Littleton.

So Hillary and I decided to close the coffee shop instead of going deeper into debt.

Kurios Koffee failed.

After all this my business mentor told me, “The worst thing you can do is never try again.”

I didn’t believe him. There was no way I was jumping back in again. I was done.

Fast forward a few years. Edgewater Coffee Company was closing on December 31, 2013 and as a community we needed to find a way to keep the space open as a neighborhood place to drink great coffee and connect with neighbors.

I fought the idea of stepping in for months.

I couldn’t do it.

The last time I ran a coffee shop it ended in failure and debt.

I couldn’t even step foot on the campus of Denver Seminary for years because the feelings of failure were too much to bear.

FEAR.

But something/Someone deep in my spirit was telling me to jump back into it.

So on Monday, January 6 I put my barista apron back on and the nonprofit I lead, Edgewater Collective, assumed management of the Edgewater Coffee House. We are going to see if we can continue the great work of Edgewater Coffee Company’s founder, Gina Hartley, and make the coffee house viable in Edgewater. These days nonprofits are experimenting with social entrepreneurship and ventures that feed profit back into the nonprofit.

It is amazing how my experiences with Kurios Koffee inform my role leading a nonprofit and especially managing the coffee house.

That doesn’t mean that I am not afraid of what could happen.

But fear is a great motivator.

And failure is the best teacher.

I firmly believe and have experienced that the joy of success only comes out of pain of failure.

Developing Your Family’s Mission and Values

Hillary and I have been reading through Bruce Feiler’s new book “The Secrets of Happy Families” and have been devouring it. The ideas and principles are different from any other parenting book yet practically transformative. Definitely worth picking up!

One of the insights Feiler found as he talked to different families was coming up with a list of values and mission statement that are unique to your family. I don’t want to explain the whole process because I really think you should pick up the book. In chapter 3 titled “Branding Your Family,” Feiler dives into how it is important to discover and communicate your family “brand.” So often we develop values and mission for our work but don’t bring those principles home.

On New Year’s Eve, we sat down with our girls and came up with ten values that fit our family. We asked our girls the following four questions from The Secrets of Happy Families:

  1. What words best describe what we want our family to be like?
  2. What is most important to our family?
  3. What are our strengths as a family?
  4. What sayings best capture our family?

We kept the discussion short because we wanted to keep their interest but it was cool to see what was going through their minds. It is so important to have our girls play a role in what our family is becoming.

Now we will hang these values and mission statement by our kitchen table so we can refer to them with the girls.

Here are our Newton Family Values and Mission Statement:

Family Values Poster

Operation Christmas Child and Public Schools

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There’s a brouhaha going on in our Denver metro area over a public charter school that organized a gift drive with “Operation Christmas Child.” The school decided to cancel this year’s project because of concerns from the American Humanist Association.

You can read more about the story here.

I will try to be wise about what I say because some of the parents organizing this drive are from a church that I used to work at. Also, I would like to point out that we as a family have participated in Operation Christmas Child before and it helped to focus our kids on giving instead of getting over the holidays.

Here are some of my concerns with a public school sponsoring a project with Operation Christmas Child:

Our country is based on religious freedom for all religions. In my opinion, this means that we need to create equal opportunity for all religions in the public square. For this reason, public schools stay away from religion because if they go down that road, they have to provide equal access for all religions. For some reason Christians push their religion in public schools, yet don’t provide equal opportunity for Muslims, Jews and Buddhists.

Operation Christmas Child and its parent organization Samaritan’s Purse are unapologetically Christian. Their website states, “Gift-filled shoeboxes are a powerful way to introduce children to God’s greatest gift, salvation through Jesus Christ.” As a follower of Christ I don’t have anything against Samaritan’s Purse. But Operation Christmas Child is clearly evangelistic and to use the secular word “proselytizing.”

Therefore, I don’t think it’s appropriate for a public school to partner with Operation Christmas Child.

This issue is very important to me because we have friends at our daughters’ school who come from different religious traditions. As followers of Christ, we need to be aware of those who view the world differently from us. Fighting for our religious rights and pushing our beliefs into the public schools does not build bridges. If anything it pushes people away from Jesus.

If you want to participate in Operation Christmas Child, join with church members or other believers. Just don’t bring it into the public school. And if you really want to protect your religious “rights,” enroll at Front Range, a great Christian school right up the road in Littleton. They offer an excellent Christian education for elementary and high school students.

Faith Motivation and Edgewater Collective

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This past Sunday I preached my final sermon at Mountair and explained what our family is stepping into with Edgewater Collective. Though the organization is not faith based (find out why here), my work with Edgewater Collective is faith motivated.

You can listen to sermon below:
Listen to this episode

Goofiness, Baseball and the Magic Chair

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Dads, do you have a chair in front of the TV that your kids don’t dare sit in?

I spent Monday through Wednesday going through basic chaplaincy training with the Colorado State Patrol in preparation for my new role as a volunteer police chaplain with Edgewater Police. Police officers have unique stress that can have a destructive role on themselves and their families. One of the ways they cope with this stress is zoning out in their “magic chair” and tuning out what is happening around them.

I don’t think this is unique to police. I do it. Just last night Hillary bravely told me to turn off the World Series and be present with our girls.

And boy was it worth it last night.

We found out that Apple’s GarageBand app for the iPad is free and we had a family jam session on our iPads. Then we found out that there is a vocal recording part of the app that allows you to record your voice and then make it sound like a chipmunk or a monster.

The sounds that we made together were hysterical. At one point I thought Norah was going to wet her pants she was laughing so hard.

All it took was me getting out of my “magic chair” and engaging with my family.