By Seth Williams
June 26, 2014
"As long as my kids are one of God's children, He'll be working on them. I just have to do what I can do while I've got them."
I first had the privilege of meeting Brett and his beautiful family when he and his wife, Jessica, did a family photo shoot for me, my wife, and our daughter. We had been very intrigued and inspired by their family as we kept up with them through their blog and Instagram feeds. Brett leads his family in a strong, Godly way, while creating an incredibly intimate and special bond with his wife and children through cooking, homeschooling, and reading through the Bible together. Brett and his wife are talented photographers and have a gift for documenting the lives of their children through photos. I have been deeply inspired by Brett and was honored to get a chance to hear the heart and passion behind how he leads his family. We recently sat down one early morning to chat at Carabello Coffee. Brett ordered quiche and a cappuccino. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Jessica, and four kids, Priya, Adin, Riah, and Gabe.
What's your favorite album of all time?
That's tough. I think old school. When I was growing up, I was really into the Christian music scene. We'd go to Berean every day in the summer. My brother and I would ride our bikes there when it was in Montgomery. My brother was the one who really got me into music. So, in that genre, the Christian genre, I grew up really liking the 77's. I wouldn't say they're my all time favorite band. I'm not sure if I have one. I like strange, eclectic, cultural music from other countries. I can't put my finger on one album.
Do you have a favorite film of all time?
That's a tough one too. I'm one of these "can't put my finger on one thing" kind of people. I'm also one of these people who doesn't like to watch a movie twice either, whereas my wife will watch the same movie over and over. Man, that's rough. I remember back in the day I really liked that movie The Russia House. It had Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer in it. It was from the late 80s or early 90s. It was one of those espionage kind of movies. There was a book too. I like foreign stuff again, like Farewell My Concubine. I like that movie. I like these really long historical dramas, time period pieces. Like Braveheart. That kind of stuff. Freedom! Shine! Shine, with Geoffrey Rush. It probably had some questionable stuff in it, but it was really good.
I know you like coffee, so what's your favorite coffee shop in Cincinnati?
Well, I would say this (Carabello Coffee) and Collective (Collective Espresso). Have you been yet?
Not yet, but I've heard great stuff about it.
Dude, you've gotta get there.
What's the most important part of your life?
Knowing God. That's it. And I have these little things that He gave me. Four of them. So, making Him known to them. And then it kind of pans out from there.
And tell me your kids' names and ages again.
Okay, so, Priya is fourteen, Adin is twelve, Riah is ten, and Gabe is seven.
Priya looks so much like her mom.
She's like a full-blown adult. She's about 5'11", which is just an inch shorter than me. It's bizarre. She's not allowed to wear heals (laughs).
How does your faith in Jesus define who you are?
It does, that's it. My faith in Jesus revolves around love and God. Loving God according to the scriptures is keeping His commandments. So, in order to do that, you can't forget them. Israel forgot them over and over. And they had these amazing miracles happening in front of their face, stuff that we don't have. We're not privy to those kinds of things. So, how much more difficult is it for us if we're not continually seeking God? And we do that by reading scriptures, just being really grounded in that…grounded in my church. Being dedicated that way. That's why we're here in Cincinnati, because that's where my church is. There are lots of places I'd love to live…California, New Mexico, lots of places. But this is where I'm at, because of God and church.
What church are you involved with?
It's called the Cincinnati Church. It's very scripturally based.
Do you have a good community there?
Yeah. It's kind of small, but that's good. It's a core group of people that really believe in the scriptures. Lots of people my age, lots of families. I was actually a founding member of it. It actually started in Columbus, and then it moved down here because so many of the members were from here. A lot of the people are right around my age with lots of kids. All the way down to people just having kids and all the way up to my daughter being the oldest. When my wife was baptized she was pregnant with Priya, so she's the oldest child in the church. The church started the year after we got married. So, it's been fifteen years since we started the church.
I know you have a passion for photography. So, why do you like photography and how does having kids inspire you creatively?
Well, my wife's always been into photography. I wasn't until she pulled me into it. And what really got her interested was having kids. She wanted to document their lives, and have these little pieces of memories through photos to pass on to them and future generations. That's what it's really about. It's about documenting life in a more photojournalistic way. Not to set something up or pose it. And that's kind of what it evolved into was, ok, let's do this for families so that you capture them in real life. It's all about balance. That's why we call our business Life in Balance Photography, because the goal in life is to have this balance. Not going in these extreme directions. And for us, that means balancing it around God. He's the center focal point.
And I know you also love cooking, and I love how you incorporate your kids into that process. Do you feel that creates a stronger bond in your family?
Gotta feed ‘em (laughs)! Just sitting down with your kids and trying to talk to them, it's like they're on the spot. But when you're actually day-to-day doing things and interacting with them, that's when you really find out about who they are, because they're on their toes, doing something, and you're seeing how they're acting and interacting with others. Things come out when you walk with someone as opposed to sitting down with them. It's stale dialogue, especially with kids. They're so active. So, there are so many teachable moments when you're actually doing it with them. You're leading by example. You're not just telling them what to do. You're kind of showing them life and how it works, side-by-side, coming and walking alongside of them, whether it's with cooking, whether it's getting my daughter to run and train because she wants to play soccer...she doesn't want me to run with her because she wants to stop (laughs). So it's like, no, we're going to run together and you know you're not going to play soccer until you can run "x" amount of distance. I'm not going to pay for you to be involved to play soccer unless you're going to be dedicated. So teaching them to be committed to something, and being right there with them, or just teaching them to do the essentials, like you've got to feed yourself. Well, how do you feed yourself right? Not mac ‘n cheese and cereal and microwave meals. How can you get the best benefit from the bounty God has provided instead of manipulating it with man's devices to be this quick meal? It's about nourishing your body the same way you nourish your spirit, connecting it all together. So there are so many opportunities to nourish their spirit while you're teaching them these other things.
And you guys homeschool your kids. How have you seen that help to strengthen your family bond at home?
It's all about raising good humans, and in my case good Godly humans. If you think about it, even if you send your kid off to a Christian school, they're mostly being raised by their peers, but we're charged by God to raise our children ourselves up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But peers can't do that for you. And if you think about it, if you took the actual school year, someone besides you is with them in their waking hours more than you are. Someone else is feeding their spirit and their minds with who knows what. And even if it's a Christian school, that's the problem, because all these kids are in the same boat together. They're not being guided by who God properly told to guide them, which is their parents’ job to raise them up. You can't do that if someone's got them more than fifty percent of the time of their waking hours. So that's why it's so important to homeschool children. And the schooling model, that's just another story. The schooling model is broken. In this country, grades are declining and standards are declining to meet those declining intellects. People just don't know how to think for themselves. In homeschooling them, I can be sure that they're not just regurgitating something. They're learning to think for themselves. Schools are teaching what I like to refer to as neo-cognition, which is, I think I'm thinking but really I'm just regurgitating some propaganda. Maybe I'm just learning it enough to spit it out on a test and get a good grade. Is it about what that grade is or is it about my retention and my ability to talk about it because a lot of these kids can't talk about it. So my goal is to teach them to learn how to learn. You can't do that in the current school system with just their peers where they're all in the same boat struggling. There's not really anyone individually guiding them in meeting them where they're at. What are their needs? Because people learn differently. People learn at different paces and rates. But the school system is like one size fits all.
That's really interesting and inspiring. I never really gave much thought to homeschooling till I was exposed to it in your family.
Dude, you meet so much resistance, even within the Christian community. Like, if you're homeschooling, you're depriving your kids of socialization. That's the number one thing you hear. But how are we raising our kids to be mature adults? How are they going to learn that if that's not what they're around? And how many wrong paths will they go down? Broad is the way that leads to destruction, and narrow is the way that leads to life. So you're telling me, especially if you're a Christian, that it's a good thing to just throw them out there at that young of an age when they're so impressionable? Really? And besides, they're to be learning to be socialized with other mature adults. What's the best way to get that? Interacting with a mature adult. Right? And they do get socialized. Not only do they have their brothers and sisters, they have extracurricular activities they're involved in. They have neighborhood friends. My kids are super social. Some of the most social kids I know. And they would love to be in a school and just play around with their friends all day and maybe not take school so seriously and learning how to learn so seriously, but there are plenty of extracurricular activities. And the thing is, when you're in this big group of kids, it's always this social experience. And they can choose to take school seriously or not when you're not there. But if I make sure their primary goal is to be educated, to know about God and His creation, you know, how it works, and then make that the basis for which they maybe are allowed to do x, y, and z that is a fun social activity, instead of the other way around, where when you're in school it's like, oh, this is the fun social activity and now maybe I'll take school seriously. So it's a priority shift. Now I get to decide when they get to do all these fun social things based upon how disciplined they are, how seriously they're taking the schooling which is important for raising good humans. To raise good humans you have to be educated properly. Call me crazy.
How do think your faith has been strengthened, grown, and challenged since having kids?
Oh, tremendously, because it's not just about me. That's one thing. I can screw up, but now if I screw up, it's a domino effect. It's a ripple effect. You really have to step it up. Being a single person, going from single to married, is a huge thing. And then I think it's even more huge going from that to being this couple that now has these little ones that you're trying to raise as good humans. You get a completely different perspective on life having children because now you're forced to make some decisions. You may have been kind of waffling on “What do I really believe about God?” or “Do I even believe in God?” But even if you already do believe in God, you now have to tell someone else what that means. I can't just be indecisive. I really have to understand why I believe God and what I believe about Him. And do I believe some of these misconceptions that people have, or what are the misconceptions? I don't want my kids growing up with the misconceptions I had. So now you've really got to figure things out. You're forced to become much more serious about life.
How do you see your faith play out in the work you do, from photography to software testing?
Yeah, it's huge. One of the things I try to teach my kids is, what is loving God? It's obeying His commandments. What are His two primary commandments? Loving Him, which is obeying His commandments, and loving others, how we treat others. So, good Godly humans are people that treat others, even if they're different, in a way that's maybe not a moral issue. Or even if they are different morally, how do we treat them? What kind of respect are we going to show them? You know, so that's kind of how I am in my workplace wherever I work…respecting others, meeting them where they're at, not trying to force anything on someone, but being there as a sounding board for others. Whether that's in photography, photographing all different kinds of personalities that are different from us, maybe in some minor ways and maybe in some significant. Same thing at work. I work with people from all over the world who have different beliefs and different ideas about how things should and should not be. And I try not to let that get in the way of having a relationship with other people. Obviously the more you have in common, the tighter a relationship you can build, but at the work place it's a little bit different because it's about getting work done. But still, if you're not properly educated in the scriptures and loving others and all that, then you may have different feelings towards someone based upon some prejudice or stereotype. So it's breaking down those walls in their mind and approaching them with the love of God. After all, God meets us where we're at and works on us. It's all about teaching kids that there are things out there that maybe we don't agree with or that are different, and that's ok. We can learn about that. You can stand for what you stand for, while at the same time, letting other people stand for what they want. And when they're interested and want to know about it, you can tell them, instead of brow beating someone with what you believe that might be different. You can believe something is right and wrong and still allow someone else to do their thing.
What's your greatest fear as a father?
Failing as a father (laughs). Being a bad example. You know, my greatest fear is God. But all these other fears try to creep in. So I just try to make sure that I'm fearing God, and what does that mean...I don't have to worry about all the other fears. Because fearing God means I'm doing what He said, following His precepts, commandments, statutes. If you're doing that, all those other fears kind of just go away, because what can man do to me, right? So the biggest fear that tries to creep in is failing in that regard. Not being this good model and example to my children. How do you solve that? Go to God. Get in His scriptures. That's kind of it.
What's your greatest dream as a father?
Wow. To see my kids dedicating themselves to God. To make a decision to be baptized, follow Him, and become a part of His church officially. And I'm not pushing them to do that. Not at all. Because I don't want them to make that decision if it's not what's going on inside of them. I don't want to pressure them in any way. I want to teach them what's right and teach them that's what God's book is telling them to do, to be baptized and become a part of a local church community, and let God take it from there. Raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and when they're old they won't depart from it. And as long as they're one of God's children, He'll be working on them. I just have to do what I can do while I've got them.
What in life challenges your faith the most?
The internet (laughs). Technology. Man's inventions. That's what it is. Man's philosophies. Everything that man likes to come up with and think that somehow they can be their own god. I mean, the primary thing honestly, for everyone, men and women, is the bombardment when we're looking at our mobile devices, when we're looking at our computers. It's the marketing of evil. There's a great book called The Marketing of Evil. That's the biggest problem, because you're bombarded. And that's what I try to do with my kids is keep them away from technology, because that's not educating them. It's distracting them. And a lot of it, unfortunately, is stuff that appeals to the lust of your flesh the most, the skin, the smut that you can not avoid. I warn my friends that have kids like my daughter's age and my son's age, that age where they're getting mobile devices, where they're creating Facebook accounts. That seems harmless, but it's not. I like to look at Facebook on my mobile device because you're not bombarded with all those ads. If you get on Facebook on your computer, I'm like, this is why my kid is not having a Facebook account. Because I can not believe the stuff I see there that distracts me. And you can't help but let it distract you. Even if you're not clicking on it, what are they showing you? It's not something that's going to help me think on Godly things, to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. It's what feeds my flesh, my lust, my desires. Not what feeds me helping others and loving others, fulfilling God's law and commandments. That's not what it's about. It's the complete opposite distraction. So no, my daughter is not going to have a mobile device till she can pay for it, which means she's going to have to have a job, which means she's going to be out of my household, probably (laughs). Maybe she'll get one of those candy bar phones where you can do T9 texting and stuff (laughs). Good luck with your iPhone, girl.
Life gets so busy, especially when you get married and have kids. I'm trying to become more disciplined with the time that I spend with God. So, how do you find time to spend with God? What does that look like for you?
I think it got, in some ways, easier when my kids got older and were at a schoolable age. Is that a word, schoolable? We'll use it. Because then again you had to make all these decisions, right, because what am I going to teach my child? Hopefully you talk to your wife about this before you got married because now you're going to have to talk about it. (laughs) What do we believe now? What are we going to teach our kids? Oops (laughs). But that's kind of how it happens sometimes. So it kind of forced me into teaching them that, teaching them the rudiments of life, the rudiments of selfishness verses selflessness. So you have to get into that right away when they become schooled because it's about them not wanting to school, them not wanting to do what they're told. They're not obeying. They're not following what you're telling them which is not following what God is saying because they're supposed to obey their parents in the Lord. So the way that I do it is we as a family all sit down at our communion table, communion meaning where we eat together and live together, the family table, Baba's table (laughs)...that's what my kids call me. It's dad. You know, Abba, father. It's Arabic slash Hebrew. It's very semitic. There are even European languages that use Baba, like Greek. So that's one way we do it. Another way I do it is, rather than listening to the propaganda, whether it's Rush Limbaugh on the right or NPR on the left, or whoever on the “left” or “right,” rather than listening to that propaganda, which has very little truth in it, a lot of times I will listen to sermons or studies from my pastor or pastors that I know. I'll listen to that in the car. Or if my kids are in there, I try not to have music on. My daughter wants music on all the time. But if I can ever distract her, then we won't listen to music. We'll talk, about life, which is talking about God because He's the one that we all live and move by and have our being in, so it all comes back to that. So yeah, that's how I do it. Every day we're in the Bible. And the curriculum that they follow, Classical Conversations, a Christian-based classical education, it's about integrating all subjects with God being the center of everything. So it doesn't matter what you're studying. If it's sciences, that's God's world. If it's physics, He's the one by whom all things move and have their being. He's the first cause of all things. So whatever you're studying, it could be literature where you're talking about His creation. All these subjects are God-centered, even if you don't want them to be. Even when I'm educating them, we're talking about the Bible, talking about God, talking about His order when we do math and how we want to do things in an orderly way. Look how orderly the universe is! Look how orderly life here on earth is! Look how orderly the atomic level is! I mean, God has, what, around 114 plus elements that we know of, and they all fit together like Lego pieces, perfectly, with their valence bonds and their electrons. So it doesn't matter if we're studying math or science. It all fits together. It's all perfectly designed by Him. And we can monkey with it and screw it all up, create some frankenfood or frankenmonster, but it never works out quite so well. Every day we make it a point, sometimes we'll miss it, but most days we're reading the Bible together as a family, all sitting down. So we try to make that happen every day, and make it the focal point of what we're doing. Right now we're just walking through the Bible, and what we'll do is we'll sit down, and if there's something really difficult or hard, I might read most of it, but usually we'll go around and have them read. Now they're practicing their rhetorical skills, their dialectic skills, talking with me about it. I try to pause because I know that they're not getting it all. And they're not going to get it all, but I know that they're not getting hardly any of it sometimes. I'm like, I'm reading this, I'm picking it up, and I'm thinking what are they thinking. So I pause. And to read a chapter may take thirty minutes plus because I want to make sure they're getting at least the general concept of what's going on. We're reading Samuel right now. We all read and discuss and make God the center of what we're doing and see how everything is written, old testament and new testament, so we might know how to and not to behave in this world with God. So we can learn what to do and what not to do from His scriptures, and so we talk about all that.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your kids?
Well, I don't want it to be all about me. I'm not looking for a hero's plack on my grave. That they can be inspired by my example that I've given them to be dedicated to God, and dedicated to the cause of loving others and treating them with respect and being good humans, good Godly humans. Good examples for others in their lives like I was hopefully. That's the legacy I want to pass down of setting a good example. Not being distracted. Can they be focused, and God being their focus of their lives? That's the legacy I want to leave behind. Jesus said, when He returns will He even find faith on this earth. So that's going to be the biggest struggle, for people to be focused on God.
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