Archives For September 2012

Single Dads

Tim Jackson —  September 25, 2012 — 4 Comments

In the interest of fairness, I heard back from readers (both males and females) that single dads are also struggling to make it as solo parents. And they’re right. I had no intention of slighting single dads. The fathers out there who are invested, involved, and making their parenting a priority in spite of the obstacles thrown at them are to be championed as well.

Guys who are laying it down for their kids are every bit as much “heroes” in my book.

In the past, one of the obstacles single dads have faced regarding parenting time with their kids has been how the courts have viewed the whole child-custody issue. In a divorce, are the kids better off with their mom or with their dad? That’s the decision the courts have been forced to mediate between opposing parties who either can’t or won’t make wise decisions regarding the well-being of their children. And let’s face it, a husband and wife who couldn’t agree on how to stay married are probably not going to agree on how to raise the kids now that they’re apart. Sadly, the courts are left to decide . . . and that’s messy no matter how it goes down. Everybody—dad, mom, and kids—lose something.

As divorce escalated in our culture, the courts traditionally sided more with the mother as the primary caregiver of the children. However, that’s beginning to change. As things have become more equal in the eyes of the courts, fathers are getting more consideration in the custody issue. Splitting time equally between parents has become more accepted in the courts’ decisions than previously seen.

That trend bodes well for dads who are lovingly involved in their children’s lives, especially when the mom has been the negligent party in the home. I’ve worked with dads who have altered their careers just so they can be more involved in their children’s lives. These dads aren’t deadbeat loser dads. They’re engaged and want to be meaningfully involved in parenting their children well.

These are the dads who don’t “provoke anger” in their kids (Eph. 6:4). Instead, they are about nurturing, training, and teaching their children in ways that honor the God who has called them to be fathers (Deut. 6:5-9).

So when you see these guys out there doing the parenting solo thing with the kids, remember: They need our encouragement and support too.

Those are my thoughts. How about yours? Feel free to share your thoughts and stories as a single dad, about the single dad who raised you, or on how God has encouraged you to reach out and encourage a single dad.

Single Moms

Tim Jackson —  September 21, 2012 — 8 Comments

I’m convinced that being a single mom is one of the toughest challenges any woman will ever face. Let’s be honest. Being a mom is a ton of work, and raising the next generation is a monumental task. Carrying, caring for, shaping, molding, and influencing her children is both a responsibility and a delight for many women. However, being left to parent solo without a husband to tag team with her is much more than challenging. It’s overwhelmingly unfair!

That’s why single moms are heroes in my book.

I know there are many reasons a woman can be left to parent solo, but the one I see most often are those moms whose husbands have bailed.

Recently I was chatting with a single mom who was totally overwhelmed by what she was up against. She’d finally drawn the line with her husband, who had been guilty of numerous affairs throughout their 20+ years of marriage. He’d run off with a woman 12 years younger, leaving her with 3 kids and financial support that was next to nothing because he was also financially irresponsible. No surprise there.

After years of what felt like beating her head against a brick wall, she’d had enough and filed for divorce. Divorce wasn’t an attractive option. Nothing about it made her feel good. But feeling good wasn’t the point. Being the responsible adult in the relationship and doing the loving thing for her children was.

She not only felt all alone, but she felt beat up, betrayed, bankrupt, and buried alive under a pile of relational rubble that her ex had dumped all over her. And she felt like giving up. It would have been easy for her to just give in and make excuses for doing nothing.  And, most of us would have understood, given her overwhelming circumstances.

But that’s not what she and many other single moms like her have done. They’ve shouldered the responsibilities of being the adults in the home, have gotten jobs (sometimes two) and paid the bills, and have provided a safe, secure, and loving home for their children.

While it wasn’t what they had in mind when standing at the altar, they’ve stepped up and done the heavy lifting as the sole breadwinner and soul support for their kids. Not that they don’t struggle with it all and sometimes feel like quitting, but they choose not to quit. They continue digging out from under the rubble and demonstrating a consistency in their love that their kids admire and depend on.

They certainly have earned my respect.

So the next time you see a single mom shouldering the load of parenting that was designed to be shared by two, take the time to express a word of encouragement. Let her know that you noticed and that you admire her for all the sacrifices she makes for her children. Maybe even go out of your way to lend a helping hand by offering to help with home or car repairs,  childcare, or a gift card for a night out. Your words of encouragement will be like water to a thirsty soul, and your acts of kindness will speak volumes.

I do think this is the kind of 21st-century idea behind James’ exhortation to first-century Jesus followers about one of the earmarks of genuine faith: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

Those are my thoughts. How about yours? Feel free to share your thoughts and stories as a single mom, about the single mom who raised you, or on how God has encouraged you to reach out and encourage a single mom.

Identity: Who Am I?

Tim Jackson —  September 17, 2012 — 22 Comments

In my last post, I talked about how people sometimes mistakenly identify themselves by their mental health diagnosis. But a diagnosis isn’t the only way we misidentify ourselves. It’s easy to do that in other ways as well.

Don’t believe me? Take this simple test. The next time you’re hanging out with a group of people, listen to the ways you and they talk about and identify themselves. “I’m a carpenter.” “He’s a pediatrician.” “I’m a nurse.” “She’s a school teacher.” “I’m a lawyer.” “I’m a stay-at-home mom.”

Our natural tendency is to identify ourselves with what we do. Our jobs. Our professions. But fundamentally, as important as our jobs are, we are not the job. Our value and worth can’t be based on any job or profession. A job is how we function in a particular capacity for a specific purpose, but who we are isn’t what we do.

I’m often identified by others as a counselor. But honestly, I’m not a counselor. Yes, I have the requisite degrees, certifications, and licensure stating that I’m approved to practice the counseling profession in my state. But I’m not a counselor. Instead, I describe myself as a man who does counseling. Do you hear the difference? The difference is between identity (who I am—a man) and function (what I do—I counsel).

Counseling is something I do. But my identity is that first and foremost I’m a man, made in the image of God, worthy of love and respect, and I counsel. Someday, due to age or circumstances, I will no longer function in the role of a counselor, but my identity won’t change.

At the core, identity always goes back to image, not the image I create for myself with my public presentation of my profession, but the image that God created me in—His image (Gen. 1:26-27). And that image is foundational for understanding the value and worth of every human being.

It’s the image that the invisible God has etched on every human soul regardless of race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, nationality, or profession. Any other basis for identity is merely descriptive.

If our identity is tied to our job, well, in a nutshell, we’re in trouble.

The reality is that our jobs and professions can and do change. Statistics tell us that the average stay in a job is 4.1 years and that most adults will have 7 to 10 job changes throughout their working careers. If one’s identity is based upon one’s performance, what happens when the job, the profession, or the career we relied on is lost? An identity crisis. Many people don’t know who they are without their work. And with the instability in the job market coupled with the shifting sands in the current economic climate, an identity based on one’s work can be tenuous at best and can feed into chronic feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

Remember: You have an identity given to you by God Himself when you were being formed in your mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13-14). It’s an identity you can never lose. Living with a renewed focus on your true identity can save you from investing massive amounts of time, energy, and money trying to create an image for yourself that will inevitably disintegrate.

So, who are you? Does this identity and image thing strike a cord with you? Let me hear from you.

 

 

 

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Tim Jackson —  September 10, 2012 — 9 Comments

As a counselor, I work within a system that often places a diagnosis label on an individual’s struggles. I frequently hear comments like: “I am a borderline.” “He’s bipolar.” “I’m ADHD.” “I’m an abuse victim.” “I’m an alcoholic.” “She’s OCD.” It’s crazy—not an official diagnosis :-)—to take on a diagnosis as the primary identifier of one’s personhood. I want to scream, “No, you’re not!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like codes that unlock doors or allow me access to my computer. A diagnosis can be helpful. I have a little handheld gizmo that I plug into my vehicles that spits out a code, giving me a diagnosis of why the “check engine” light appears on my dash. The code is helpful so that I can determine if this is something minor that I can fix or if it’s a more complex problem that I need to have my mechanic repair.

Fundamentally, the problem is that while there is some truth contained in a diagnosis, a diagnosis doesn’t equal identity. That’s not who we are at the core. But it does describe how we struggle. And there’s a huge difference.

People are not vehicles. We’re not mechanical. We’re personal, living, breathing, feeling, longing, purposeful beings who are made in the image of the invisible God of the universe (Gen. 1:26-27).

Image-bearers. So what difference does that make in real life?

It means the person who was my 4:00 p.m. appointment yesterday isn’t a number, a diagnosis, or a case. She’s a person with a name and a story uniquely all her own. She should never be reduced to a diagnosis code. Yes, she struggles with a particular collection of symptoms that has been given a name, but that diagnostic category is not her name. It’s not her identity. She, like me and you, is a complex conglomeration of inherited tendencies and learned responses that have shaped her story. But underlying everything is her identity as a daughter of Eve who bears the image of the invisible God is at the core of her being.

Knowing that changes the way I see people. I focus more on caring for an individual’s heart, for who he or she really is, and focus less on treating only symptoms or merely correcting aberrant behaviors.

What we all need to remember is that we are not our struggles. Yes, we all do struggle and our struggles are colored by our stories. But we are not defined by our struggles. I know that’s especially hard to remember when we’re feeling overwhelmed in the middle of our pain.

So let’s help each other to remember this: You and me and everyone else we will encounter today is not a diagnosis, a customer number, or the patient in room 201. Each one of us uniquely reflects the image of God. It doesn’t even matter if we believe in Him or not, we all still bear the label of our divine Tailor—made in His image—and are worthy of love and respect. Remember that, and it will change how you see yourself and the rest of the world around you.