Archive for February, 2013

An Invitation to the Middle Place from the God of Extremes

Whether you see life as a playing field, a pathway through a forest or even a box of chocolates, you can never know for certain what tomorrow will bring.   Quite often our encounters on the field, along the path or in the box require us to respond to things that are pretty undesirable.   In these moments, I must confess that my first internal reaction can often be quite intense, even primitive.  I admittedly struggle to move to that middle place- the valley of tension between two lands of absolutes.  But repeatedly, this is where the God of extremes chooses to meet me, dance with me, and transform me while I play on the field, walk the way, or taste the next bite.

When conflicts first appear,

I have the strongest urge to quietly disappear, hide, disguise myself with silence.

Moments later, an equally strong yet opposing urge brims forth.  Words begin to queue up in in my mind ready to burst out like water from a fire hydrant flooding a stubborn flame.

My silent and strident God invites me to the place in the middle where he gently lures me out from behind the rock and bids me to swallow  the watery words that strike and wound like stones.  In this valley, I find safety as he sets me high upon a rock.   For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Psalms 27:5

When the pathway is unclear,

I want to go to sleep and wake up when limbo is long gone, when the place where nothing changes finally has new scenery, and when the land of the unknown is finally named.

But I can’t ignore the intense desire to suddenly lace up my “striving” shoes and runabout in a frenzy.  These shoes will  take me everywhere I need to go in search of an answer, a solution, a decision that will end the unknown.

My revealed and concealed God awakens me out of my slumber and invites me to climb the mountain barefoot.   He promises to direct my feet and secure my way.  As for God, his way is perfect; it is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. Psalm 18:30a, 32-33

When unmet expectations appear again before me,

I am inclined to turn off the faucet where dreams and desires trickle out.  Perhaps the land of black and white where creativity is gone and colors don’t exist is a good place to reside.   I want to rid myself of the reverie that things might change.  Convincing myself that God didn’t want any of it for me can consume me.  

But I can turn the knob the other way on the gas that fuels the flame.  This cook can keep cooking, continually stir, and make something delightful out of rotting dreams if I just keep at it a little longer.

The God who creates and completes invites me to sit in His lap where dreaming and resting and hoping in Him can happen, even while the disappointment, the pain, and the grief remain in my own lap. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; Lam. 3:22-25

Intense emotions, thoughts that ricochet all over the place, a heart struggling to trust, and slips of doubt can lure me to explore and consider life at the poles.  But the God of extremes calls me to experience Him in the middle space.

In the middle place, I am so thirsty.  Here, God satisfies my longings.

In the middle place, I am not enough.   Here, God is enough.

In the middle place, I cannot see very well.  Here, God goes before me.

In the middle place, I am desperate for change, transformation.  Here, God molds me into His image.

When life on the field is filled with strife, the pathway is unmarked or the bonbon unsavory, may you find the courage to embrace the middle place where the God of extreme grace, hope and love will always be ready and waiting to meet you.


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Tuning in with Teens Who Cross the Line

This past week I asked Facebook friends to give me some ideas for this week’s blog.  I received many requests through comments or private messages asking me to address a whole myriad of issues we face as parents of teenagers.  Reading each suggestion reminds me why this season in life can be so challenging-there are so many tricky issues we must address with our teens!  As one person commented, I now have plenty of material to blog about over the next few weeks!

Today I will lay a foundation that is helpful to consider when teens ignore, violate or ridicule limits or boundaries.  I picked this issue for many reasons.  It is one of the most common topics of conversation I have when I am counseling or chatting with parents of teens.   And, if I am completely honest, after some conflicts in my own home this week, I think I needed to remind myself of a few things too!

I have always been a believer in principle-based techniques rather than formula-based parenting.  To me, formulas or regimented ways of parenting disregard the uniqueness of you, your child, or your family.  Moreover, they completely quench God’s ability to lead me in determining the best response to the things that pop up in the life of my teen.  Principle based parenting, on the other hand, helps me focus on the spiritual, psychological, developmental and emotional truth or principle that is at play in a given situation.   This then guides my response to my teenager when they have chosen to disobey or disregard a limit.  The question I ask myself is: “What may be going on within them in each of these areas and what do they need or require from me at this moment in time?”

Taking a teen’s spiritual, psychological, developmental, and emotional needs under consideration all at the same time following a limit violation is extremely difficult.  Tuning into each of these requires time as well as a powerful mix of skill, discernment and self-control.  The picture that comes to mind is that of a one-man band effortlessly playing and singing his tune with a happy heart blessing all who are listening.   Give me a chance at putting on the one-woman band gear, especially when people are crossing lines, and I am certain you would hear a cacophony instead of a harmony.   I simply don’t have the patience, rhythm, coordination or expertise it requires to create a joyful noise!

I often feel this way as I am trying to decide how to respond to one of my teenagers who has crossed a line.  Should I address each aspect of this issue by playing all of my “instruments” loudly and at the same time?  Or maybe I should just blare the horn in their face and walk away?  Or perhaps I should make very little noise and instead allow a steady beat of consequences to affect them?  At other times I wonder if I should just sing a pitiful melody and finish it off with a loud toot on the horn.  Surely this will remind them of who is in charge!

I am so thankful that unlike the one-man band, we have a Conductor who is willing to guide us in our response to our teenagers.  If we allow Him to set the rhythm and pace, he will let us know which “instrument” to pick up and tune.  The Bible is full of examples where Jesus responds in just the right way to the many needs of the individual with whom He is interacting.   Likewise, God desires to lead us in our relationship with our kids.  He is fully aware of where they need a little “tune-up”.  Some questions that I often consider when asking for help in these areas include the following:

Spiritual: How will my response spur them on, challenge them, convict them?  How can I both reflect the Father’s love for them and still communicate the biblical principle that a person’s wrongdoing or sin has consequences?

Developmental: What is my child developmentally capable of doing or not doing on their own? Am I aware of typical milestones for this age and expecting those with reason?  Am interfering with development by rescuing them? How can my response foster developmental growth instead of delays that will cost them later in life?

Psychological: Knowing that my teen is called to slowly separate from our family and become independent, how does this issue foster or stifle that process?  How can I use this problem or violation to gain an understanding of how they see themselves, others, God? Are my own fears interfering with their ability to learn hard lessons on their own?

Emotional: How is my child doing emotionally?   Do they need me to hear their heart, their fears, their concerns about a situation first?  Do I see any clues in their mood, behavior, attitudes that may require some empathy and understanding before I offer consequences?

Many years ago, one of my children had interacted with a teacher at school in a very disrespectful manner.   Thankfully, the teacher informed me before my child came home that day.  This gave me time to calm down and prayerfully consider each of these areas.  As we talked about the incident, it became very clear that I first needed to address some emotional struggles that were apparent.  After listening with genuine compassion, my child emotionally yet independently came to a place of contrition. Furthermore, this child humbly received the predictable “beat” of a consequence because his emotional need had been addressed before I tackled the other needs of the moment.

Teenagers are in need of so much guidance from us before they leave home.  Knowing that time flies and they will soon be off on their own, we are often tempted to address every single area when a limit is crossed. Resist the temptation to create a one-man band response by responding abruptly and impulsively to every aspect of the problem at once.  Instead, ask for wisdom, look for clues and lovingly address one or two areas well.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:17-18




Shelter in the Storm

I was twelve years old when Hurricane David came through Florida in 1979.  This category 5 hurricane had just ravaged the Dominican Republic and was forecast to come through my region of the state.  Schools were closed for two days and the news was full of updates about the disaster this mega storm had already left behind.  Although an evacuation was not ordered, residents were admonished to take cover in the safest place in their homes.  I remember my mother telling my three sisters and me to gather together in the guest bathroom downstairs when the storm was getting closer.  To make our hiding place a little more comfortable we each began to load up the bathroom with our favorite things-pillows, blankets and of course, our beloved stuffed animals.  Almost immediately we forgot about the impending storm.  Instead, my sisters and I became completely focused on creating a shanty out of blankets and pillows and filling it with all of our stuffed animals.  I remember the fun we had until suddenly the door of the bathroom could no longer muffle the sound of the wind outside.  I could hear the pelting rain rattling against the windows and the glass sliding doors.  Instantly, I became aware of something missing from this shelter amidst the storm.  My mother. Where was she?   This storm that had only brought me a vacation from school and playtime with my sisters was now about to deliver destruction to my small world.  I desperately needed my mother’s reassuring presence to comfort me.  None of my cozy items could give me what my mother could in a moment like this. I vividly recall the fear I had inside when I frantically realized that my mother had never entered the hiding place with us.

In times of trouble we all create barriers, coping mechanisms, and distractions to help us deal with the feelings of angst or fear that comes when we are in the midst of turmoil.  Pillows and stuffies get replaced with other comforts like food, books, music, the internet, television or a dozen other things that momentarily soothe us as adults.  But like the storm I faced as a little child, many times we suddenly realize that we need something much bigger than ourselves to bring us lasting comfort in life’s storms.  We desperately need security that no behavior, thing, or coping strategy can offer when  we are in the middle of a disaster or we see one coming our way.

While raising teenagers is not always full of calamity, there is no question that during this season of life many families begin to face some turmoil.  The problems that we faced when our kids were younger  often pale in comparison to the disintegrating marriage, family chaos, job strains, rebellious teenagers or even health issues that many parents must confront just when their kids reach adolescence.  What can be done?  Where can we hide when confronted with overwhelming struggles like these?

In Psalm 18:18-19, David looks back at his life and praises the Lord for the way he supported him in times of trouble.  I especially love how the variations offered in the *Expanded Bible give us some added insight to the meaning of some of the words in this passage.

They ·attacked [confronted] me ·at my time of trouble [L in the day of my distress/calamity/disaster], but the Lord ·supported me [was my stay] He took me to a ·safe [spacious; open; L broad]place.  Because he delights in me, he ·saved [rescued;T delivered] me.

Don’t you love how the phrase “the Lord supported me” can also mean “was my stay”.  God stays with us in the storm.  He does not leave us alone in our hiding places.  And in His perfect timing, He will deliver us to the open place.  Why does He do this for us?  He does this my friend simply because He delights in you and He delights in me.

Today, may you remember that He will stay with you in the midst of your troubles and that in due time He will take you to the spacious, open place where you will be freed from the turmoil of today.  What an amazing promise that is, especially in times like these.

*The Expanded Bible was released by Thomas Nelson Publishers in 2011 and offers the reader some insight by providing the literal meaning of words or phrases or an alternate translation. I find it helpful to understand the intended meanings of particular words/passages in the Bible.

Insanely Sleepy


“My teenager’s mood changes are driving me crazy!”

“I’m sure my kid has bipolar disorder!” “Their moods are all over the place!”

“My son has been so edgy and irritable.  I think he has a mood disorders!

“I am sure our daughter has ADHD.  She just can’t seem to stay focused.”

These and other concerns are heard every day in the counseling offices of those who work with teens.   I hear them all the time as well.  Parents genuinely concerned by their child’s erratic behavior.  Kids frustrated by their parent’s reaction to their temper tantrums yet secretly worried they might really be going crazy.   Often times these irrational outbursts lead both parents and kids to wonder if a serious mental health issue really is emerging right before their eyes.

The truth is there are so many things that shake up teenagers and cause extreme changes in both mood and behavior.  Hormones, brain changes, losses in relationships, academic expectations and family stressors are just a sampling of the issues that can lead to “crazy” behaviors.  A problem in any one of these areas quickly impacts another causing a trickle effect to occur.  Before you know it, their overall stress level is so high that they lose it with you over the littlest thing.

While there are many things to consider when dealing with problems in any one of these areas, I think it is wise to first evaluate one specific area in the life of your teenager.  In fact, in my own home, this problems in this particular area have recently impacted emotional balance, cognitive clarity and our ability to be civil with one another.  Yet even though I know better, I too often overlook or minimize this area in my own life or in the lives of my teenagers.  Wondering what I am talking about?   This powerful antidote I am referring to is sleep.  Yes, sleep.

The decrease in the quantity and quality of sleep that teens AND adults face in the US is of grave concern.  According to the CDC, sleep loss is taking its toll on the physical and emotional health of Americans as over 20% report getting less than 6 hours of sleep most evenings.   Research on sleep deprivation is not new and continues to confirm that interruptions or limitations on sleep cycles can lead to serious mental, emotional and physical problems.  More recent research concludes that sleep deprivation not only makes us moody and more impulsive, it also makes it very difficult to manage and regulate emotions.  (Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, Mar 1996).  These three symptoms alone (moodiness, impulsivity and emotional lability) can be misinterpreted as ADHD, anxiety or even a mood disorder.  God surely knew what he was doing by ordaining a day of rest!

Consider the average teen today.  They are connected to electronics late into the evening, chatting, studying, listening to music or mindlessly surfing the net.   Studies confirm that they optimally need 9 ¼ hours of sleep yet most are getting less than 7.  It is not a surprise that so many adolescents are moody and irritable and emotionally unstable at times!  While it is difficult to make a teenager go to sleep, there are some things that we can do to help in this area:

1)      Set the example.  Make sure you have created enough margins in your own life so that you can get enough sleep.  A grumpy, sleep-deprived parent only aggravates an already irritable teenager.

2)     Give electronics a curfew.  Consider “checking in” all phones, ipods and laptops in a common area by a reasonable time.  Due to their interference with the release of melatonin , electronics need to be off at least an hour before sleeping.  (I know, that seems impossible these days.)

3)     Help your teen learn how to manage their time more effectively.  Don’t assume they know how to plan out their work for the week.  They may need guidance.

4)     Let them sleep in when possible.  Many teenagers benefit from the opportunity to sleep in on the weekend to rejuvenate their body and mind and balance their emotions.

5)     Short naps can actually help teens regain some focus, energy and cognitive clarity.  The time of day is critical as late naps can affect their ability to sleep at night.

The next time your kid loses it, and behaves in a completely irrational or impulsive manner, resist the urge to diagnose or label them.  Instead, take a minute to evaluate the quality and quantity of their sleep.  It just may be that sleep deficits may be significantly interrupting their emotional and mental stability, making them seem a little insane.


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