Making the Most of the Mess

“How did you feel when your parents found out?” I asked. Like a typical teen, Megan said, “Well, at first I was really mad at them. Then I felt so embarrassed and exposed.” After saying this, she slowly twiddled with a tassle on her sweater. She then looked up, sighed and quietly muttered, “It also felt strangely freeing as well.” As she tried to find words to express her feelings, she admitted how exhausted she felt from hiding her actions. Even though she had to endure some pretty heavy consequences, there was a big part of her that genuinely felt relieved.

Far beneath the sassy attitude,  scowls, angry displays and silent treatment lay thoughts and feelings that exposed a bit of what she really desired. “I’m tired of hiding,” she admitted. “I want someone to know what is really going on in.”

girl known

Megan’s sense of relief reflects a desire that lives within every human being. Even though she had spent an enormous amount of time and energy hiding her behavior and protecting her heart, she really wanted to be known. Especially, by mom and dad. God created her with a relentless desire to be known. Because she did not have the courage to reveal her poor choices, Megan kept up her disguise. Unfortunately, the more she hid, the more she hid. Eventually, she was completely unaware of the pain and brokenness she continually concealed in her heart. Megan couldn’t imagine that rest, relief and restoration could actually be found by being vulnerable and transparent with someone she could trust.

As parents, our response to our kids when they are caught plays a key role in either perpetuating the game of hide and seek or ending it. Unfortunately, fear and despair can cause us to freak out, overpower and squelch any desire they may have to tell the truth. If we can view these messes as pivotal moments, however, we can actually take steps that invite them to discover the life they deeply desire.

Remember, they deeply desire to be known. Your teen is aching to live the life they were created to experience. If they behave defensively or aggressively when their junk is revealed, take heart. Even if they don’t express it, these revelations move them away from Enemy territory and into the light. While the Enemy desires to convince them to hide, their lies and deception will eventually destroy relationships and ultimately themselves. God, on the other hand, offers them freedom as they bravely reveal what is going on behind the scenes. Our commitment to pursue our kids, project emotional safety and demonstrate unconditional love can fan the flames on the bit of courage they need to confess and come clean.

Reflect God’s grace. Being found out gives a parent the opportunity to display God’s love and mirror God’s grace. One teen recently told me she felt both shocked and uncomfortable when her parents calmly and lovingly confronted her after finding out about some poor choices she’d made. “I keep waiting for them to freak out or yell at me or angrily glare at me,” she said. This is what she felt she deserved. By verbally and physically expressing their love and favor toward her, while still implementing consequences and setting new boundaries, she understood a bit more about God’s amazing grace.

Remain faithful. When teens get caught doing something they knew they were not supposed to do, you have the opportunity to keep your promise. When a kid has been warned about a consequence and a parent does not follow through, the promise is broken. Demonstrate that you mean what you say and that you will do what you said you would do. A parent who chooses to do the hard thing by being direct, intolerant of destructive behavior and lovingly implements consequences demonstrates what it means to be faithful and trustworthy with regard to commitments.

The next time your kid is engaging in behaviors that are inappropriate, imagine yourself in the trenches. You are, indeed, at war. You are fighting for their character, their future, their life. Getting louder, trying to win arguments or cranking up your control will only interfere with this effort. Instead, consider the One who fought for you and emulate what He has done for you as you interact with your child. Because He made you, He knows what you really need in your most messy moments. Pray that He reveals the root desire beneath your kid’s actions. Because He loves you and died for you, He extends grace and mercy to you even though you never deserve it. Offer this to your kid, especially when they least expect it. Because He is trustworthy, He will always remain faithful. Follow through with the promises you’ve made.

Your Story in HIStory

Walking in the door after a long day, Sara slowly made her way to the family room. She had so many things to accomplish, but all she could do right now was plop on the couch. Exhausted from morning battles, Sara leaned over, tucked a pillow beneath her cheek and curled into a ball. Images of her life begin to roll through her mind like a silent film reel.

“Today was hard,” she thought. Daily disputes with kids, never ending chores and the disenchantment in her marriage seemed to be poking bigger holes in the reservoirs of hope that often buoyed her back up. Thinking ahead to the future didn’t help either. The horizon seemed to reveal more of the same. For the first time, the weight of her tightly held yet unmet desires became palpable. Overcome with grief, tears streamed down her cheeks as she whimpered aloud, “This isn’t what I hoped for.”

Sarah hadn’t even realized she’d fallen into a deep slumber until she was suddenly awakened by the obnoxious ringtone her kids had secretly programmed into her phone. Relieved to have been temporarily rescued from the colorless tunnel she’d entered, she instantly altered her disposition and cheerily greeted the caller.  After listening intently, Sara fretfully responded, “Yes, of course. I’m on my way.”

sleepy mom 2

We don’t really need to know what happens next because Sara’s story mirrors our own in many ways. Like hers, many of the dramatic twists and turns, the delights and disappointments still remain untold. And, even though her tale and our may contain very different details, beneath it all, the ultimate desires of our hearts are really quite similar. We all want the majestic pieces of life on earth to endure forever and hope we can avoid or stave off the unexpected yet inevitable betrayals of this world. All the while, our hearts know too well that even the pinnacle moments will not last nor will they ever fully gratify the longings that live there.

Master novelist and theologian C.S. Lewis captures this truth better than anyone in his book The Weight of Glory when he wrote,

The books or the music [or marriage or family] in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

The peaks in our earthly stories are only scents and echoes of something we have not yet encountered. And, the valleys? These are meant to awaken our desire for the denouement, that perfect ending we are desperately hoping for. This is written on our hearts so that we can recognize how our personal story exists within a greater and far grander narrative – a magnificent and matchless tale that promises us enduring peace and beauty without betrayal.

This story began with Chapter One – CREATION – when God designed a perfect place for His glory and for human flourishing. This peaceful era was followed by Chapter Two – FALL –when man rebelled and rejected God’s rule and authority. These actions not only tainted a perfect story, they brought death, destruction and separation from God to mankind. Thankfully, the loving and merciful Author of the story continued to write on. In Chapter Three – REDEMPTION – He revealed His Master plan by sending His Son Jesus to earth to rescue and redeem His children. As we now celebrate the birth of Jesus into a world that was desperately lost without Him, we can rejoice that the redemption offered to those who believe was only the beginning of the end. We are given a sneak peek of the Final Chapter – RESTORATION – when Christ will again return to earth. At that time, the world will be completely purged of evil and peace will prevail as He reigns and resides with His children.  In that country we have not yet see God, “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain [because] all these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:4, NLT)

Sarah’s story, my story and your story are pages in the middle of THE greatest story. It is the one that our heart dreams about yet promises to be far better than anything we could imagine. Though we cannot see it now, we can rejoice knowing that all of His children will, indeed, gasp with delight over the very splendid ending to tHIS story.

What Every Parent Longs to Hear

I read an article recently by a mommy blogger who invited moms of older kids to share what they would tell their younger mom self. Their responses didn’t really surprise me too much. Compacted into a few sentences, their advice boiled down to these three tips:

Enjoy the journey. They will be leaving home in the blink of an eye. 

Slow down. Busyness will keep you from seeing the beautiful gifts that surrounds you.

Take time for yourself.  A balanced parent is a better parent.

I really don’t want to be a negative Nellie or bash the author’s good intentions. But, I have to say when my kids were young, I heard or received advice like this frequently. And, while I agree that all of these statements are true, they didn’t offer me the encouragement I often craved. Instead, phrases like those often pushed buttons deep within my soul labeled “strive more” and “not good enough”.

mom cooking

I was already trying so hard to enjoy each season of development.  In fact, I remember taking mental snapshots on both simple and extraordinary days and saying “Remember this” quietly in my head. Even so, in the midst of uphill battles, there were so many times when I secretly wished we could just get to the end of all of this. The journey was anything but enjoyable. I also secretly dreamed about what life would look like if we could just slow the pace down. But, a full plate seemed tightly tethered to being a committed wife, a mom of three, a house manager, an active member at my church and a part time therapist. There were long seasons where very little could be removed from my daily or weekly schedule. I did take time for myself when I could but often that came in the form of itty bitty chunks. It was all I had and it was better than nothing.

These frequently offered words of wisdom have led me to wonder what I would choose to share.  Since I can’t narrow it down to just one statement and because this is my article, I’ve decided to share two words of encouragement I think my younger mom-self desperately needed to hear. The first is this:

Today, you are most likely doing the very best you can with the resources you have been given.  Trust God to fill in the gap between what you have to offer and what is really needed.

In all my years working with families, I haven’t met a mom who isn’t already giving all that she can give to her family, her friends and her job on any given day. Moms don’t start the day deciding to hold back emotionally, physically or spiritually. Instead, like the little boy who shared his lunch with Jesus to feed the crowd, we tend to give our kids and our families all that we have. Even though there will always be a gap between what we have and what may be needed from us, we can trust that God will miraculously supply exactly what is required as we lean into Him. Instead of looking back at the day or the week or the year and wondering what you could have done differently, remember that there is a strong possibility that in the moment, on that day, or during that particular season of life, you did the very best you could with what you had in you and around you.  So, grace to you, devoted mom. Let God satisfy the difference.

Following these words, I would then tell myself this:

There isn’t a thing that you are experiencing today that didn’t first pass through the hands of the Father. He is sovereign, so try to find rest in His perfect plan.

God isn’t surprised by anything you are facing today. In fact, because He loves you so very much, whatever comes your way is His very best for you. He is too good to offer you anything less. Although it is hard to comprehend on this side of heaven, He has allowed the pain and the ongoing difficulty for your benefit and for His glory. On days when the unexpected occurs and you don’t know how you’ll move forward, get in the habit of whispering upward, “I will choose to believe that this is your best for me.” So, very weary mama, don’t forget that He’s got this. He knows what He is doing and what you really need.

The truth is, the advice I would offer my younger self are really phrases I still need to hear today. Even though two of mine are grown and the last one looks and acts like he’s all grown up as well, I’m still a parent who wonders if I could’ve done something different.  At the end of it all, I will choose to hold on to the fact that each day I did what I could and He lovingly allowed me to encounter just what I deeply needed. Grace and goodness. They are at the center of the gospel and they always go hand in hand. They are rather inseparable, if you think about it.

To the mom who is trying to enjoy, attempting to slow down and who really wants to create a balanced life, I pray that you will hold on to the grace and goodness that God bestows upon you as you trust Him with every aspect of this blessed journey called parenthood.

LET THEM GET WET

I’m not a runner. For a season, I tried to act like one, but that didn’t go so well. My knees hurt and my back ached way too much for someone my age. Because the only thing I loved about running was being finished with my run, I decided to mimic Forrest Gump. I stopped running altogether. I don’t think I have run one since that day many years ago. That all changed recently.

After approaching my normal turn-around-point on my regular walking route, I felt a light mist coming from the sky. Within minutes, the dainty little drizzle turned into a major downpour. Since I was pretty far from home and the rain kept falling harder and harder, I decided to pick up my pace and run. I was certain my knees would cramp, my back would lock up or lock up, or worse yet, I would trip and fall on the muddy path I was on. But, none of that happened. In fact, I marveled at how fast I was able to run and how wonderful I felt. If a car had pulled over and offered me a ride, I would have refused. This unexpected storm had suddenly become a rather sacred moment.

 As I marveled at how my legs were moving so quickly, I could hear Him whisper,

“I will give you just what you need for now.”

Even though the sky was rather ominous, He gently reminded me,

“Like every storm, this shall pass and you will find rest.”

When fears about terrible possibilities arose, He kept saying,

“Abide in me. I will lead you home.”

And, when I lifted my head and noticed how far I still had to go, I heard Him say,

“I am your shelter, your refuge, your help in time of need.”

God had used this sudden shower to reinforce what He had been trying to teach me in the midst of other rainstorms going in my life.  When I was forced to run through this inconvenient and messy rain I was finally able to hear His voice so clearly.

running in rain (2)

I desperately want my kids to know and hear God’s voice like this. Even though I can tell them all about my experience the other day, I know full well that their most intimate encounters with God will happen when they personally experience drizzle, downpours and deluges that come in many different ways throughout our lives. Yet, every time their lives begin to get a little muddy, I always find myself battling this automatic urge to rescue them or rid them of the storm. I guess it’s a momma instinct within me. I also think it’s pretty counter culture these days to let kids weather their own storms. It seems like too many parents have made it their personal mission to make their kids’ lives pain free. “Helicopter parents” who were known to hover over their kids have been quickly replaced by “snowplow parents” who constantly force any obstacles out of their kids’ paths in an effort to ensure their success. According to many college administrators, however, this new breed of protective parenting is depriving them of the grit and resilience they need to make it through college.

Our kids gain these two essential traits when they get wet and have to figure out how to personally navigate their way through their difficulties. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t encourage or even offer direction or wisdom to their kids in the midst of their storm. It does mean, however, that as they grow older we remain on the sideline more and let them battle on their own.  This ultimately empowers them to fix the problem they caused, to reconcile with the person they wounded or to face instead of avoid the difficulties they face. When we plow the snow for them, they will never gain the strategies, the steadfastness or the spiritual and emotional strength that is essential for them to experience the abundant life God intended for them in college and beyond.

So, fellow parent, let your kids run in the rain. Let them confront the mud, the muck and the mess. As you let them go, I pray they will hear you encouraging them to press on. And when you are not around or cannot do a thing to make the mess disappear, trust that the storm might just give them the perfect opportunity to recognize and respond to God’s beautiful and voice that will always offer them just what they need.

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Living Freely

Red, white and blue. These colors represent America. They remind us of our flag and the freedom we have in this country. This privilege came with great sacrifice. Men and women gave their lives for the freedoms we have in this country. They fought hard so that we could become separate and distinct. Even though the fourth of July is behind us now, we should always take time to thank God and our service men and woman who have given us this gift.

Even though we enjoy the many benefits that come with living in a free nation, I fear that as a nation we are more enslaved than ever before. We may not be living under the tyranny of a dictator or under the control of a corrupt and evil ruler, but there are powerful forces within us and around us that daily threaten to mentally control us more than we realize.  If we are not cognizant of these influences, in many ways our lives will be no different than a person who is subdued by a greater power.

In no way am I trying to diminish the great freedoms we have been given in this country. But, our ability to speak freely, or assemble or vote nor any other right granted to us by the constitution will never compare to the freedom that comes from a spirit that is fully alive.

St. Irenaues once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I would add that a person who is fully alive is the most free. They are not chained to empty philosophies or perpetual lies. Instead, they are redeemed by Christ, bathed by His grace, and fully released to live the life that He has granted them. This is freedom.

Though Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and eventually martyred he offers us a picture of true freedom. It is not dependent upon our ability to move about freely. Instead, it comes from a spirit that has been redeemed and a soul that has been bathed in grace. And, though we have been given this freedom because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, we must daily choose to embrace this gift. Otherwise, we will find ourselves enslaved to the deceptive messages of our day or the defeating beliefs that may derive themselves from the pages of our past.

As a woman, a wife, and/or a mother, take a look at the dominant messages that surround you and your children every day.  Do what you like.  Tolerance means you don’t disagree with the majority.  Follow your heart. These ideas, beliefs or principles run counter to the messages that come from God’s word and while they may seemingly sound inviting and even rational, many of these enslave us to a way of thinking or behaving that actually crushes us.

The internal forces often come from our own head. These can fears, voices of shame and lies. Quite often they originated from a painful past, a bad decision or a powerful and controlling relationship. Phrases and passages linked to these experiences pop in our mind when we are in the midst of dealing with a new disappointment, doubt or unwelcome disruption. While we may not always recognize these enslaving messages, they can powerfully control how we live our lives on a daily basis.

Remembering can be a powerful exercise because sometimes we simply forget what we have. When it comes to being a free nation, we must make sure that we take time to realize the gift we have been given.  Even more importantly, for those who have placed their trust in Christ, we must daily remind ourselves of the freedom we have been given in Him and assess whether we are submitting to the empty deceit of the world of our mind or to fullness of God that invites us to a freedom that the world cannot offer.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— Colossians 2:8-10, 20

Slaying the Techno-Beast at Home

Most kids today have had their hands on a gadget before they ever formed their first word. Technology is so integrated into their lives, that few if any can even imagine a world without it. If we are perfectly honest, we probably played a major role in feeding our children’s passion for all things media. Brilliant marketing strategies compelled us to purchase digital products that bore the names of geniuses or that contained convincing words like “leap” in them. We were sure that these “educational” toys could somehow give our kid an edge socially, academically or developmentally. We marveled at the way they were lulled and mesmerized by them and thought surely something wonderful was happening in their mind.

By the time our little tots become teens, however, many of us started to view technology a bit differently. Now, the smartphones, tablets, game systems and computers seem more like a beast threatening to devour us all. We try hard to tame this behemoth by setting guidelines, limits and by forcing them to endure life without a gadget in their hand every once in a while. Now, we find ourselves hoping and praying that their brain won’t be permanently harmed by the constant staring, scrolling, and screening.

teens text

This digital age and all that comes with it has become a regular conversation among parents of pre-teens and teens. We consult with one another to see how others are dealing with it all. “When should he get a smartphone?” “How long is too long in front of a screen?” “What kind of wifi filters do you use?” These are just a few of the questions I am frequently asked. Parents are worried, confused and tired of the daily disputes that often arise when limits or guidelines are set and enforced. Kids want more. And, moms and dads dream about the days when none of this existed at all.

Even though I have often felt the urge to toss every computer, gaming system, tablet and smartphone in the trash to instantly get rid of these, I know that in many ways we have greatly benefitted from technology. Eradicating it doesn’t really address the bigger problem. When we get mad or lose our temper because our kids seem more disobedient or distracted, we must ask ourselves what is really going on. Why are we so agitated? Could it be that the daily dilemmas remind us that our deeper longing to feel more connected with one another is not being satisfied? Or, perhaps, these battles indicate our great desire for order, peace and a bit of predictability at home. Connection and order are essential and both point toward part of God’s plan for man.

Quite often, our teen’s overdependence upon technology stems from their thirst to feel more connected or included. Because God created us for relationships, our teens desperately want to learn how to relate to one another. They long for authentic, life-giving relationships where they can be heard as they discuss, disagree and work through conflicts.

Even though social media seems to offer a forum for this, more than ever, teens seem to be struggling to create deeper connections and to maintain order and harmony. Nonetheless, the systems or devices themselves are not the problem. Our willingness to let these interfere with our ability to create committed relationships with one another seems to be the bigger problem. Our kids rely on us to teach them how to communicate, resolve conflict, and work toward peace. They need their moms and dads to show how messy and magnificent human relationships can be. Their devices won’t offer them this model nor will most of their peers. Like many things, our homes will become a place of connection and peace to the extent that we model this.

Become aware of how much you are pulling out your smartphone, staring at your tablet or tuning into a screen instead of chatting with your spouse, child or friend. When there is discord, work hard to stay tuned in and open up the lines of communication to resolve conflicts. Slay the beast by pursuing your teen, by creating order and predictability through the use of guidelines and limits, and by being more intentional about being fully present whenever you are interacting with friends and family. And last, but certainly not least, ask God to give you wisdom, insight and direction so that you can defeat the disconnection and discord that is all too often blamed on the products and platforms of the digital age.

A One Word Resolution Solution.

Hello there! It has been a long time since I’ve posted on my blog! Happy New Year! Happy January! As you know, this first month of the year offers us the opportunity to make a resolution, to start over by setting a few goals and looking ahead. By now, you either were gung ho, made a resolution and are hopefully right on track. Or, maybe you’re like me. Resolutions stress you out and overwhelm you as you recognize just how many areas of your life need a little help. Making healthier decisions. Working harder at my marriage. Being kinder to my kids, especially when they’re in trouble or I am just plain grumpy.  Maybe, just smiling more. Staying more focused and disciplined in my walk with God. I could go on and on.

Way back when, I tried to set a few resolutions each January. Sadly,  it seemed that after just a few days or weeks, my best intentions went by the wayside. A string around my finger, Post-It notes, phone reminders, alarms, or even giant signs pasted on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator didn’t seem to help at all. These little devices that are supposed to help us remember, didn’t really work for me and never really helped with the motivation factor.  So, instead of feeling guilty about my inability to remain committed, I avoided making resolutions altogether.

A few years ago, however, I was introduced to a book called My One Word. The author, Mike Ashcraft, is a pastor in Wilmington, NC who actually agrees that making a list of resolutions isn’t always the best way to make lasting changes. Instead, he invites his congregation to “choose one word that represents what you most hope God will do in you, and focus on it for an entire year.” Each January they each pick a word and tie it to a Scripture that will help them cling to a biblical truth or promise related to the area where a transformation is desired.

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Inspired by this new twist on New Year’s commitments, I decided to do this two years ago. In 2013, my word was “believe”. After God led me to a series of challenges, I wanted to finish the year steadily believing that He was at work even if I could not see what He was doing. This past year, I chose the word “today”.  Since my second teen would be entering his Senior year in high school, I wanted remain fully present and focus on what God had for me each day. For both words I chose a relevant scripture and put it on a bookmark in my Bible. I also made something artistic that depicted the word and displayed it somewhere in my home. After two years of picking a word instead of a resolution, I continue to be amazed at how God used just one word combined with His word to continually refine me throughout the year. Sometimes someone would say it at just the right time, even though they had no idea that it was “my” word.  Other times, I would heard “my” word on the radio, in a sermon or in a song. Throughout the year, God continually used the word in creative ways to remind me of the desire I had laid before him in January.

As I begin this year, I decided to alter this tradition a little by picking a second word that specifically applies to my relationship with my teenagers. I challenge you to join me in doing this as well. Consider selecting a word and then sharing it with your teens or an accountability partner to let them know what you are asking the Lord to form in your relationship with them this year.  Remember to find a Scripture that is connected to the word that will help you lean on Him as He molds you and shapes you this year. To inspire you to think about what you might like to do differently in your relationship with your teen, here are a few possibilities: Delight, Pursue, Wait, Listen, Love, Engage, Encourage, Mercy, Watch, or Discern.

So,if you haven’t made a resolution yet, or if you’re like me and you’ve already failed to keep the one you made, try this for a change! For more ideas you might want to check out the book or the website www.myoneword.com. Both offer many ideas to help you use this simple little tool to bring about lasting change in your life. Ask God to lead you to just the right word and expect Him to use this word as a powerful reminder throughout the year. After you pick out a Scripture associated with your word, write the word and the verse down and post it where you will regularly see it. Most of all, make sure you spend time in His word so that He can refine you and mold you into the parent that He has called you to be for your teen. Regardless of what happens in the year ahead, we can take heart in the fact that our faithful God is always at work in the life of a mom who is yielded to Him.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.   Isaiah 64:8

 

 

CALLING ALL MOMS OF YOUNG KIDS: Here’s the truth about parenting teens.

Years before many parents are even close to raising a teenager, it seems that many already dread the day when their preschooler becomes a high schooler.  They’ve heard the frequent complaints and concerns about raising teenagers.  They’ve endured the countless admonitions that come from distressed or disgruntled parents. “Enjoy them now,” they say with gloom in their voice. “Everything goes downhill once they hit those teen years.”  These frightened parents of younger children just nod their heads, look at the sweet faces of their children and try hard to soak in these good years since what lies around the corner doesn’t sound too wonderful.

Well, I have made it around that bend and am now a mom to three teenagers (ages 19, 17 and 14). While parenting teenagers has certainly come with its ups and downs, I am on a mission to tell every young mom about the joys of raising teenagers. Even though I have genuinely enjoyed every stage of my kids’ development, I have to say that this season is undoubtedly my favorite. Here are my top ten reasons why raising teenagers is far more awesome than awful:

  1. You will laugh a lot, if you let yourself. If your kid is funny now, just wait. Our silly son did and said the funniest things when he was a little guy. At 17, he is just plain hilarious. Even though he can cross a line at times while displaying his wit, I love the everyday laughter he brings into our home.
  2. You get to see their gifts and talents blossom like never before. When they’re little you wonder what they’ll be like when they’re older. When they’re older, you look back and trace their gifts and talents back to the early days when you had no idea that this would flourish from that.
  3. You will see independence and strength arise when you least expect it. You will be so amazed at their ability to stand alone when challenges appear. You will be so proud of the strength and courage that blooms as they grow.
  4. You will love having deeper, thought provoking conversations. Your teen’s newfound abilities to question, debate, and discuss just about anything under the sun will delight you and drive you crazy as well. Some might tell you this is a negative trait. But, I am here to tell you that heated discussions can be a wonderful opportunity to connect with your teen as you make room for them to find their voice.
  5. You will see glimpses of who they will be as a man, woman, husband, wife, father and mother. While these may make you sad at times, they will also motivate you to equip them for what lies ahead. These often encourage me and remind me that they will be just fine.
  6. You will make wonderful memories doing things everyone enjoys. When we were finally able to play games and sports and do outdoor activities that my husband and I love, the competition and the fun went through the roof. Beating our kids was sickeningly satisfying. And, when they beat us? Well, let’s just say, the fun multiplied for them too.
  7. You will love their unfiltered, unbridled perspective on life. Even though their opinions might come flying out of their mouth at the wrong time, a teen’s honest take on things can be a breath of fresh air in a world where truth seems to be a disappearing commodity. Not only that, you may need to hear their honest take on you at times.
  8. You definitely won’t get bored. Teenagers are passionate and exuberant about almost everything and anything They might not always be fervent about the things you want them to be impassioned by, but their zeal will bring an energy into your home that you will need as yours runs dry.
  9. You get to live with a dreamer. Your teen’s dreams about their future will inspire you to begin re-imagining what yours will be like as well. Our teenagers can teach us how to take risks and trust God as we lean on Him to start writing the next chapter.

 

And, the #1 reason is…

You have the privilege of knowing that you faithfully walked beside your kid and cheered them on as they complete the last stretch of childhood and cross over into adulthood. Even though I still ache at the memory of my oldest packing up to go to college, I also feel grateful that I got to walk beside her every stretch of the way.

Parents of young kids, enjoy the season you are in and look forward with anticipation to the coming years when you will be raising a teen. And, you parents of tweens and teens, know that even in the midst of the hardest days, you are smack in the middle of one of the most awesome and awe-filled seasons of parenting. Soak it in and enjoy the gifts that God has to offer you in the home stretch.

Paying Attention to Our Words

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Sophie Magazine. 

One of the most powerful resources we have as parents are our words. What flows from our mouths has the power to build up and encourage or tear down and dishearten. Many great books have been written on this topic. A favorite of mine is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. In it the authors use humor and helpful illustrations to give the reader with skills and insight to motivate kids with words. Another favorite is the Bible. Throughout God’s word we are repeatedly offered nuggets of wisdom to help us guide our word choice. Some of the most profound are found in the book of Proverbs.

proverb

The words ofthe reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.Pr. 12:18

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Pr. 15:4

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Pr. 29:20

The gist of these verses is that words have great power. The wise parent should learn to be intentional and prudent in speech.

Believe it or not, even those words that are hidden in our heads carry great influence. These are the phrases that we instantly form as we make observations throughout our day. They shape how we feel and then respond to what we see. In my work as a counselor, these secret perspectives offer a critical insight about the paradigm from which a person may be operating.  For example, one parent might say, “I’m afraid my daughter is emotionally sinking from all of the stressors she is facing.” While another parent may say, “I have noticed that my teen daughter is lacking some key coping skills to manage her stress,” about a similar situation. The difference may seem subtle and unimportant but the variance in word choice is quite significant. The first parent’s fear may actually drive the way they helps their daughter address the problem. The second’s parent simple observation will also affect the tone and manner in which they come alongside their teen. Even though the differences may seem subtle or overly analytical, when we are addressing problems, a slight distance like this can significantly impact the hope we feel and the solutions we generate as we help ourselves and our teens.

Of course, both our thoughts (observations) and feelings have enormous value.  But when we pay more attention to the fear we have, we actually engage a completely different portion of our brain. Because fear is experienced in our primitive brain, fear-based responses to situations tend to lead to one of two extreme reactions. The first is a tendency to be more passive, which may lead us to withdraw, ignore, or even to create a barrier of protection between the problem and our teen. We may pull away from actually addressing the problem, hoping it will all disappear. The second is a tendency to hold a more aggressive stance. This may cause us to become threatening or overly controlling as we strive to control the situation and the outcome. Both of these fear based responses provoke a roller coaster of emotions, especially if we shift from one extreme to the other.

When we choose to pay attention to what is required instead of focusing on our fears deep fears, however, a completely different part of our brain is activated. This region is known as the cortex and it operates very differently than our more primitive and protective portion of our brain. When we operate from this region we are more able to generate the most rational, creative and thoughtful responses to the difficulties we face as parents. Not only that, it is as we use our cortex that we are able to fix our eyes on Christ. Utilizing His help and our best brain, we will find it much easier to minimize fear and maximize our hope. Above all, we provide our teens with a godly example of stress management.

Words matter.  So, pay attention to what is coming out of your mouth. The way we audibly or mentally combine them greatly impacts how we address the dilemmas we and our kids face each day. I challenge you to notice your first response to a predicament you may be in. If you are reacting or coping out of fear adjust your posture to a more hope filled, Christ centered observation. You will be amazed at how this slight adjustment can positively impact how you and your teenager individually and collectively move through the next problem that arises.

Entitlement: Keeping teens from becoming Veruca

Do you remember Veruca Salt in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? She was the spoiled, little rich girl that demanded that her father buy her the goose that lays chocolate eggs. When Wonka tells him that he cannot have it, Veruca begins to whine and sing a song about her many other demands. Her father passively smiles and says, “Anything you say dear.” I remember watching this movie many times as a young child and always being repelled by Varuca’s self-centered attitude.  Like other viewers, I was drawn to Charlie Bucket whose humble manner softens Mr Wonka and compels him to select him as the company’s CEO. Unlike Veruca, who perfectly portrayed entitlement, young Charlie depicted rare character traits like sincerity, humility and honesty.  Unfortunately, over 40 years after this movie was released, it appears we have millions of Verucas in our midst and a severe shortage of Charlies.

spoiled

Image courtesy of debspoons/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From the toddler screaming at the big-box store to the teen storming away from mom when she said ‘no’ to another purchase to the group of kids who laugh and mock their friend for having an “old fashioned” cell phone. Entitled kids abound these days!  This problem is a big one to combat. Everywhere our teens go alluring ads compete for their attention. These images whisper and sometimes even shout, “You need me, you must have me, you will be delighted by me.” Because they are more digitally connected than any other generation before them, they are constantly aware of the things that other people around the globe possess. If they so much as search for that item on the internet then almost instantly, they will see ads appear on the sidebar of their social media sites or search engine results. Even if a parent tries hard to keep their kids from being entitled by placing reasonable limits on purchases, many admit that they must deal with the guilt that rises up when they see their friend’s kids with a new cellphone, game system, laptop or latest gadget. There is pressure from all sides to cave in to this entitlement beast and buy into the delusion that we or our kids ought to have what we want when we want it.

Over the years I have come across articles and books that attempt to address this massive problem in today’s youth.  There are many helpful suggestions out there that include things like delaying or denying instant gratification, practicing gratitude as a family, serving the homeless or underprivileged populations in your community together or even sending your teens on short term missions overseas. While these are all very important and helpful strategies, none of these really nips at the birthplace of entitlement. What will really determine whether  our kids resemble Veruca or Charlie will depend most on what they believe about who they are and who God is. These beliefs will powerfully impact both their internal dialogue and their external focus.

Entitlement germinates from a teen’s belief that they are utterly good and worthy. This belief perpetuates the idea that they are capable and should be in control of all things. While this may seem like a great message to send our kids, it is a humanistic message and quite contrary to Scripture.  God, our Maker, says we are depraved and undeserving because of our sinful nature. (Rom 3:9-18, Eph 2:1-5). This truth reminds our teens that He alone is worthy to be provident over all things.  Only in Christ are we considered righteous and justified.  And, only as we recognize that all things come from His hand will we humbly recognize our utter dependence on God and His provision. (I Chron. 29:11, Ps. 103:19, James 1:17)

A teen’s core beliefs impact their internal dialogue.

The voice of entitlement says,

“You deserve…”  or “They owe you…” or “Go get what you want/need.”

The voice of humility and dependence upon God says,

You don’t deserve…”  or “God owes me nothing”or “God will graciously provide you with just what you need…”

 A teen’s internal dialogue impacts their focus.

Teens who buy into the core beliefs of entitlement focus on their personal happiness, contentment, position and what they can receive.  On the contrary, teens who believe that every good thing comes from God alone find their contentment in Him as they gratefully receive and share the blessings He lovingly chooses to bestow upon them.  Because of this, they will defer praise to the only One who deserves glory.

So, what can a parent do to influence your teen to grow into an adult who demonstrates godly humility instead of earthly entitlement?

Reinforce godly principles by first examining your own beliefs. Ask God to reveal your inner thoughts and focus.

Model a life of humility by your response to blessings and in your decisions to make purchases.

Challenge your teen’s core beliefs through probing questions and regular discussions. Help them see the emptiness that comes from an entitled way of life.

Express gratitude to the One who gave it to you in the first place. Isn’t it so refreshing when you encounter a young person who acts more like Charlie than Veruca? Together, let’s commit to helping our teens move away from the lure of entitlement that ultimately robs them of knowing where true contentment lies.

 

 

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