Archives For Life's Lessons

Last night my wife prayed with Madelyn and shared with me the words. It was perfect. It was unique. I loved it. Here are the words….

Dear God, Thank you for mommy, for daddy, for Kaleb, for Amelia, for Samuel, In Jesus name, Amen… Lollipop!

You read that right. She said Lollipop immediately following Amen. Where that came from we may never know. It was weird. Heather laughed! I laughed hysterically. I didn’t go in after her and correct her about how to pray and that it was irreverent for her to say that. I thought it was amazing.

If she wants to tell God about a lollipop I think God wants to know. If she wants to talk to God about grapes, dragons and dichotomous leaves then let her do so. I want prayer for Madelyn and all my other kids to be as natural as breathing.

Blessed be GOD— he heard me praying. He proved he’s on my side; I’ve thrown my lot in with him. Now I’m jumping for joy, and shouting and singing my thanks to him (Psalm 28:6-7 The Message)

Dear God, help me pray naturally and honestly like Maddie. She is amazing. Thanks for the lesson. In Jesus Name, Amen….




Let me start with my story so that you can understand where I am coming from. First, I have to give a disclaimer. I was taught to be careful when disclosing information about my past as it might give license for people to justify their actions. Sort of a “Well Robbie went through it so can I” mentality. I think the readers of this post know better than that so please do not misinterpret my story as license. Secondly, I am not sure why I am telling all of you this now as many of you are finding this out for the first time. I guess because I have seen a few of my own youth struggle and have heard of so many others that I feel it is probably time to share my story. I have been ashamed of my past and have told very few people but now I am no longer ashamed because the past is what has made me into the man I am right now. In the words of Paul:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

I hope this post (albeit long) will help you if your child is using drugs or if you are using drugs and are reading this. I certainly did not get mixed-up heavy into drugs but nonetheless…

My Story

I was in the sixth grade when I first tried marijuana.

Let that sink in a bit.

I was 12 years old. Some neighborhood buddies and I had skipped school and we had gone into the woods when a guy pulled out this little bag filled with what looked like grass clippings to me. I remember he pulled out this weird looking pipe and put the “grass clippings” into this pipe and inhaled as he lit it. The stuff smelled like body odor with a hint of the smell when one burns leaves. It was my turn to take a “hit” from the pipe. I inhaled and coughed my brains out. I felt nothing… My friends were acting like idiots while I felt nothing.

The next time I tried it was when I was in the 8th grade. My buddy and I went to the top of a hill by the elementary school I attended and I tried it again. Only this time I felt something. I felt good. I felt relaxed. It was amazing. They tell you “Nothing beats the feeling of your first high” and you really don’t understand what that means until you experience it. From that moment on, I was hooked.

I would smoke on and off maybe once or twice a week but I remember longing for the moments where I would be able to smoke weed the next time. After my 8th grade year I moved to Chattanooga and I thought maybe my bad times were behind me but sometimes your past catches up with you and you find the same people just in a different context. I continued smoking on and off. I started attending a Christian high-school and I thought my past was behind me.

I met some Christians who smoked weed as well and my past was not behind me.

The last time I smoked weed was the fall of 1998. I met this girl whose father was a youth minister and I became a Christian and suddenly weed was not important to me. I am not sure if I was addicted to it because I usually did it with other people and it was more social for me. But I did like it. I could share countless stories of staying up at night, running from the police, my parents finding out and all sorts of other stories. I tried LSD once and drank some alcohol but weed was my drug of choice. I did it to escape. I did it because it felt good. I did it because my friends did it.

Shortly after that, I received the news that one of my best friends growing up (who I smoked with) overdosed and died from drug use. I never got to say goodbye.

I was walking in San Francisco this past weekend leaving a Giants-Braves game and I caught a whiff of weed someone was smoking among the crowd. Even almost 15 years without touching the stuff my body had tingles and my mind traced back to those many days.

So why this post? Why my story? I hope to give you advice on what to do based on experience with what my parents did but also watching and learning from others.


First off, don’t panic. I saw a stat that said that teen marijuana use is actually more than teen cigarette use. I know that your child using drugs is difficult and somewhat hard to fathom but your child needs your careful, objective and loving guidance and that takes some discernment and patience. I knew of a guy whose parents sent him off to rehab because he had tried some weed. Maybe there was more to the story but it seems it would have been better for them to discern then to panic and make rash decisions.  That does not mean minimize what they have done but don’t maximize it either.

Secondly, understand this could be a long road. Depending on their drug (mine was small in comparison) they could be in for a long road to recovery. Especially if meth, heroine, crack, cocaine and other highly addictive drugs are involved. It takes some patience, love and support to walk them through this. Remember, you are wrestling against evil and dark forces and every part of them does not want you to win. Seek the Lord’s counsel and help.

Thirdly, trust has to be earned. They broke trust when they started using drugs and it has to be earned and gained in order for them to have certain privileges. So the questioning of who they are talking to, where they are going, what are the text messages, let me see the Facebook, what did you do at school, and others are legitimate exercises to learn and earn trust.

Fourth, context is key to help. What I mean by that is what helped me was finding the right friends and purging myself of old ones. As harsh as that sounds I knew that if I was going to be clean I had to remove the unclean context. They were close friends but I knew that they would find new ones and maybe down the road when I was more mature and the time was right we could be friends again. I don’t understand why people who struggle with drugs go back to their druggie friends. That’s like saying you hate cold weather and want to rid yourself of it so you buy a house in Fairbanks, Alaska. Makes no sense. Context is key.

Fifth, find a support group, specifically one that is Christian. Ideally your home church network should be that support group but you also need to network among those parents who are struggling in a similar manner. Nobody wants to be alone and it helps to have fellow travelers who have been there and done that and can share the wounds and the victories.

Sixth, love your child unconditionally. They may scream at you. They may run away. They may struggle for years. They may cost you thousands of dollars. They may do unthinkable amounts of evil. But you love them. Unconditionally as Christ loved you. That doesn’t mean they go undisciplined or that they drain your savings but it means you relentlessly pursue them until they live a life of glorification to God. Sometimes we lose the ones we love the most but more often than not teenagers find healing and sobriety from relentless parents and a relentless God.

I hope this helps and has encouraged and strengthened you. What would you add?

Some things just get a person in trouble. Many of us have been guilty of writing that scathing e-mail where we use ALL CAPS to get our point across and later regretted we even sent that e-mail. Or maybe you wrote that blog post with every intention of settling the score once-and-for-all only to have 44 comments of people bickering about how wrong you were. Or maybe… just maybe… you were preaching from a book in Scripture and a sermon fell on a particularly controversial passage (say Matt. 19:3-12.. or any thing related to M.D.R. for you coC friends) and you presented a different view and received scathing comments. Either way there has to be some advice one should receive before sending “that” e-mail, preaching “that” sermon or writing “that” article. I have come up with a few suggestions:

  • What is your purpose? Some controversy should just be avoided altogether and your opinion on the matter, albeit important for your faith formation, will probably solve nothing and might even stir the pot a little more. Consider your motives and read 1 Corinthians 16:14 and then write the post.
  • If you can’t take the heat, then stay out of the kitchen. There is a reason why some people avoid the controversy as they do not want to deal with the fallout. This is especially important if your leadership has to deal with some of the darts people throw at you. A leadership may not want to deal with the extra stress so if you don’t have the tools and people to back-up what you say then don’t say it.
  • Let someone older and wiser read what you have to say before you publish it (Prov. 15:22). There are some things I have preached on that were controversial that could have been polished more with the eyes of an older and wiser Christian. I may have said the right thing but I probably said it in the wrong manner.
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones AND words will still hurt me. Be very careful when you label someone. Words like “liberal” and “legalist” and “sacrilegious” and others are probably not helpful, especially when you have not talked with the source. Bashing people online (“trolling”) is a passive-aggressive form of bullying and is weak, cheap and cowardly.

Did I miss anything?

On August 16, 2010 I wrote a post entitled, “Letting Go and Letting Love,” where I talked about my experience dropping Kaleb off at school for the first time. Today I dropped Amelia and Madelyn off for their first day of school and I must say that I was not ready for the wave of emotions that I experienced. Yesterday it seemed like I was praying over Amelia while she was in the NICU at Vanderbilt Children’s and now she is in Kindergarten of all things. Yesterday it seemed like I was up all night because Maddie could not go to sleep unless her mother held her and now she is in Pre-Kindergarten of all things. I don’t think life will get easier in the sense that letting my kids go will be a rudimentary task. One does not need to go far to hear stories that would make risk management professionals cringe and yet that is something every parent is charged to do. We are asked to let go.

I do not want to be that Helicopter parent who hovers around my kids assessing everything they can and cannot do. The hardest part of parenting (in my limited experience) is letting my flesh and blood experience the pain and brokenness that comes with life. How will my daughters ever understand trust if they do not experience the loss of it? How will my daughters ever understand true friendships if they do not experience the pain of losing friends?  Moments like today further the reality that God is omniscient (knows all things), omnipotent (all-powerful) and omni-present (he is everywhere). Meaning, God is sovereign (Psalm 139).

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36).

I had a God-moment in the truck this morning. Before we got in the truck I was miserable. I was crying in the shower, crying eat my breakfast and crying taking pictures. As I was driving in the truck I turned the radio on and the song, “Here I am to Worship,” started playing. I lost it. You see, ever since Maddie could sing (or even talk) that has been her favorite song. When we would have devotionals she used to request the song this way in her fast high-pitched voice: “Daddy, I wanna sing Here my mam to warship.” As the song unfolded I knew that this moment was a time given to me by God to worship and praise him. So I did.

I sang. I cried. I praised God. All three kids said the Mackenzie motto: “Have fun, be respectful, change the world and glorify God.”

I kissed them good-bye.

I let go…

and I let God.

Father protect my girls and my son from all sorts of evil. Be with other mothers and fathers who are kissing their children good-bye. We commit our children to you once again and understand our helplessness without you. I praise you God for my wife Heather who has, for the most part, carried the torch in preparing our children for this day. I do not deserve such a precious gift and I thank you for her. God I am also thankful for Krisle and my children’s three capable teachers: Shelby Rushing, Sarah Fowler and Jill Reeves. You have revealed to me your workmanship in how skillful, caring and endearing they are to my kids and so many others. Father protect them as they teach and give them the endurance and strength they need to lead these kids in wisdom and in knowledge. Be with Samuel as he is now without siblings for a season. Which is probably the way he likes it God!  Help him to grow in wisdom and stature and in your favor. Most of all Father, I give you praise for being the ruler of all and the controller of all. You reign. Glory to the highest, you reign. Let all creation testify…you reign. Thank you for worship this morning and thank you for leading my family when I cannot. I love you God. Amen. 

“Now when the people complained, it displeased the LORD; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1).

I came to the office this morning and for the first time in a couple of months I was the first to the office. Now, normally when I get to the office the coffee is made by our secretary who has done this type of thing for Joe (our preacher) and I for years but since I was the first one, there was no coffee. I had two options: 1) Make the coffee or, 2) Wait until she gets to the office. I decided to make the coffee so it would give her one less thing to do but let’s be honest: I am too impatient to wait for my morning cup of Joe! I thought about the implications of waiting though and reasons I wouldn’t make the coffee and one of the reasons was this: It’s her job to make the coffee so why should I have to make it?

Have you ever said that one before?

I caught myself saying the same thing when I was working at our local YMCA. There was a toilet that was clogged and I thought about how it was not my responsibility to unclog the toilet. But what kind of attitude does that send? So I unclogged the toilet and cleaned it. I didn’t have to and it was not in my job description but who cares? I just did it.

I wonder how many of us complain about things we feel we should not have to do because it is another person’s responsibility. Youth Minister’s abound in this type of complaining (I am just as guilty):

  • Why should I have to clean the bus when there is a deacon in charge of transportation?
  • It’s not my responsibility to lock the doors when the elders have assigned someone to do that.
  • I shouldn’t have to keep office hours when I am with the students so often.

Or what about the relational complaints?

  • Why should I talk to her when she is so mean?
  • They always whine about things so why should I have to speak to them (note the irony of their complaint)?
  • I don’t like his preaching…
  • The elders don’t shepherd like I feel they should…
  • The youth minister does not attend the needs of my children like I feel he should…

On and on the complaints go. What about you? What are you complaining about right now that you have to do even though it is not under your specific realm of responsibility? You know what I have noticed? God calls us to do things we do not like but are tests to give Him glory. A huge project that should have gone to the person in the appropriate department now falls in your lap may be a nuisance to your routine but also might be an opportunity God has placed in your lap. Who knows? All I know is that this world is saturated with complainers and depleted in doers. Consider what God views on the subject:

  • Do all things without grumbling or questioning (Phil. 2:14).
  • Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).
  • Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door (James 5:9).
  • Show hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Pet. 4:9).

So you know what you need to do when you feel like complaining? Just make the stinking coffee and get over it.


I need corrective lenses to see well but if I do not have them I can get by. I have pretty good vision but with my contacts I have perfect vision. This past week on vacation one of my lenses broke and I failed to bring an extra pair so I was left without perfect vision for two days. An important lesson came to mind: Almost perfect vision is still not perfect vision.

I find the story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) intriguing because it was a blind man who confessed Jesus was the son of David while the disciples struggled to do so. A man who has no vision seems to have more vision than those who have it. Ironic? I thought about not being able to see perfectly and it reminded me of a few lessons related to church and youth ministry:

  • After a while it becomes more and more difficult to function.
  • What is at stake is our ability (or inability) to focus on important issues.
  • I did not notice the details like I should have.
  • I never knew how much I could not see until I put my contact lenses on.

So what would you add to this?

I love being a husband and I love being a dad. I struggle at times with both but I would not trade it for a second because I love it!!! I also love it when people ask how many kids I have because their response is the same no matter how many times I get asked. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person:  So do you have kids?

Me:  I sure do.

Person: How many?

Me: Four…Kaleb…

Person (Interrupting): YOU HAVE FOUR KIDS?!?!?!?

Me: Ummm…yeah.

Person: How close are they?

Me: Kaleb is 6, Amelia is 5, Madelyn is almost 4 and Samuel is 2.

Person (Laughing in disbelief): Sheesh, you’re crazy.

Depending on who they are they follow up with an elbow in my arm saying, “You know what causes that right?” Har…har!

People are shocked when they hear that my wife and I have four kids and at first I thought it to be comical but now I am starting to wonder if we are on an island alone somewhere in the Pacific. The trend now is to wait until you are older to get married and even more to have kids. If you do have kids then the maximum is two, maybe three if it is an accident. My wife and I certainly avoided the trend as we were married at 22 and 21 respectively and we had Samuel, our youngest, by the time we were 29 and 28 which means our youngest will graduate high-school when we are 47 and 46. Sounds good to me!

I don’t get it though as to why people wait. From a financial perspective I can understand why one would not have four kids (it is tough) but other than that why wait? Even if Heather and I waited three years to start having kids we still would not be in a better financial situation than when we started.

I love being a dad of four kids who are four and a half years apart. I love how close they are and how much they love playing with each other. I love how they grow up with each other and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. I love how I get to have four vastly different prayers each night before they go to bed. I love how we take up a whole pew at church and I love the reaction when people see our four blonde-haired blue-eyed kids walk in a line like a bunch of ducks.

I love it. I am not saying I am better than people who are not married or who only have one or two kids (I do think I am but I am biased so that does not mean it is true) only that I am in a position to do what I can with who God has placed in my life. I have heard it said that God only places the difficult situations to people who can bear it and while that is not always the case, I think it is true for Heather and I as we are an excellent team and we can handle it.

So next time you are amazed at the fact that I have four kids just know that I am amazed that people wouldn’t want these four kids. I am amazed that people would wait for something as magnificent as being a father. I am amazed that people would wait for something as spectacular as marriage.  Why wait? We are not guaranteed tomorrow.

God thank you for my wife and for my four beautiful children. 

Grow up already

November 3, 2011 — Leave a comment

I read an interesting article this morning entitled, “Why texting turns us back into teenagers.” The article made some interesting points as it reflects how young adults in their twenties text each other for inquiries of relationship and the exchange is, well childish.

Shawn Farner, a 26-year-old freelance Web communications specialist from Harrisburg, Pa., often waits to return a text from a woman he is interested in—sometimes for hours or even days. He learned the power of this technique several years ago, when a woman he was dating returned his texts only once or twice a day. “The lack of instant gratification absolutely consumed my brain,” he says.Now, if a woman takes a day to get back to him, Farner takes a day to get back to her. He once waited two weeks to write a woman—after she’d taken two weeks to write him.Farner admits this manipulative behavior is childish. But he also recognizes it as an integral part of today’s dance between the sexes. Consider our relationship with our smartphones. Many of us carry one at all times, customize it with ring tones and cases and sleep with it. And research has shown that we get a rush of neurochemicals related to pleasure, including dopamine, when we receive messages.

I wonder if this is simply systemic of a larger narrative of twenty somethings and thirty somethings not wanting to grow up.  In the industrial age people had to grow up extremely fast as most worked at a young age until they died.  There was no time for reversion to teenage years because they could not afford it.  I am not a sociologist so I can’t trace where this started but I notice a lot of people in my generation (Millenials) and in the generation after mine where people cannot grow up.  I see young adults talking like teenagers, acting like teenagers and the worst of it; dressing like teenagers.  I understand the difficulties with growing up (see Tuesday’s post) but nonetheless we have to move on. A couple of questions:

  1. Why do people have difficulties growing up?
  2. Am I the only one who struggles with this?

Growing Old

November 1, 2011 — 2 Comments

I have taken my life for granted and now that I am growing old I wonder if I have missed the boat.  Growing old feels like crap.  That’s about as explicit as I get on this blog but I couldn’t be anymore honest with you.  I hear people tell me about how they would never change their lives for a second and that growing old is the best thing in the world.  I wonder if they are delusional because growing old is no fun especially when your balding, when you cholesterol goes up, your blood pressure sky rockets, bills pour in, your weight fluctuates more than the stock market and the pressures of providing for a family becomes almost too much to bear.  I used to not have to worry about things like this.  I used to be able to eat pizza and not wake up in the middle of the night with acid reflux that would burn through Teflon.  I used to be able to go out to the movies and not have to worry about the ramifications of the seven dollars I was spending.  I used to be able to pay seven dollars to watch the movie.  I used to be able to get more than five to six hours of sleep at night without a one year old impaling me with his Yeti-sized feet.  I used to be able to brush my hair….back when used to have hair.  I used to be able to go on vacations and stay out late at night but now I go on vacations and it seems a little like work and less like fun.  I used to know what I was doing in my life but now I haven’t the fainest clue.  I used to be certain God was directing my paths but now I often wonder.  I used to think that there were no problems in this world that could not be fixed but now I find myself praying that we find a solution to just one problem.  I used to be able to slow down and enjoy the day for it was but now I feel like just another rat in the race to keep the machine moving.

God knew what he was doing when he gave man time.  Time has a way of slowly giving man perspective in increments of acts made to garner him humility.  I feel a little like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes when he said, “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecc. 3:11).  Growing old stinks and accepting this lot from God is not an easy one.


Growing old I can see that it’s not about me anyways.  While it is painful at times and it hurts I get to see new possibilities each day.  With my wife and kids I see the new challenges that I am presented with and I find purpose in my family.  I love where I am at right now it’s just tough to reconcile since it is so drastically different than where I thought I would be.  You have all these dreams and aspirations growing up and when they are shattered either because they were unrealistic or because life throws curves at you it still hurts.  I thought by now I would be playing shortstop for the Atlanta Braves and now I can barely throw a softball to first base.  As I am writing this the leaves outside on a maple tree are a brilliant yellow as if the sun’s rays begin from the leaves themselves.  I am listening to some great music and I am doing what I want to do in life right at this moment.

Things are ok.  Growing old stinks…but it won’t always be this way.

Thank you perspective…it’s been a long time.

You’re growing so quickly that I can’t keep pace,

sometimes I wish God would slow down this race,

stopping the world from spinning and ceasing all movement in space.

But all I can do is jump-on to this boat called life,

watching the world throw difficulties at you and strife,

sad times, hard times and pain that cuts you with a knife.

Be a man son.  Put on your armored vest.

Always try hard, smile, glorify God and do your very best.

The joy of this world depends on you son, so please help if you can.

I have one wish for you Kaleb, and that’s to be a man!


We were so proud when we brought you home for the first time,

we held you tightly, letting you go seemed a crime,

but it was always a joy as our first child was prime.

Now that you can talk, read a little and help out we expect too much out of you,

forgetting you are just a boy wanting to live life in full view,

but to tell you the truth, all of our expectations you continue to outdo.

Be a man son.  Put on your armored vest.

Always try hard, smile, glorify God and do your very best.

The joy of this world depends on you son, so please help if you can.

I have one wish for you Kaleb, and that’s to be a man!


So I want you to know, as God is my witness from above,

that to you your mother and I do love,

and will always be there no matter how hard you push and shove.

I am proud of you my son today is your day,

God has given me six years from which I wish to convey,

that no matter what happens to me, you or your mom…our love for you will never decay.

Be a man son.  Put on your armored vest.

Always try hard, smile, glorify God and do your very best.

The joy of this world depends on you son, so please help if you can.

I have one wish for you Kaleb, and that’s to be a man!