Archive for the ‘Empowering’ Category

Resisting Resolutions and Seizing Today

For many parents of teenagers, the retrospection that characterizes this time of year does not seem as appealing as it did in years gone by.  Because parenting teenagers can often be chock full of trials, failures, emotional upheavals and turbulent transitions, I completely understand why many of us aren’t too interested in revisiting those moments all over again.  I also was planning on taking a pass on the tradition this year.  Oddly enough, something happened as I began to hear the resolutions of others and view the year end collages posted by friends on social media sites.  A mental flip-a-gram of sorts began to be fashioned in my mind- a myriad of memorable moments layered on top of personal perceptions and new found reflections.

belly busting laughter from spontaneous utterances
… flowing tears and fighting fears as the oldest leaves home

relentless rivalry between siblings
…regrouping as restlessness and angst begins to brew

kids inching higher and mouths open wider
…detecting personal growth while acknowledging room for more

sideline cheers as remarkable strides appear out of nowhere
…withdrawing, turning down the mental chatter to behold the whispers of my God

in town, out of town, running late, no time to waste
…desperately looking for another pause, to stop, breathe, behold

confrontations, attitudes and a home full of heightened hormones
…craving order yet allowing the mess to mold us

late night talks about everything under the sun
… overwhelmed by the gift of family

daily decisions, dilemmas and dark days
…recognizing my need for God, begging Him to move mightily in our midst

hand in hand, wearied gazes, spontaneous dates, quiet evenings with my love
…seeing them come, seeing them go

freedom increasing, resistance decreasing
…finding some peace, fanning the flame

basket loads of everyday moments
…struggling to absorb the extraordinary in the ordinary

After repeatedly replaying the extended version of this flip-a-gram, I realized that a mixed bag of sentiments was beginning to grow within me.  Sorrow, relief, gratitude, hope, joy, awe and a dozen other feelings were linked to each thought, image and longing that I recounted.  Not surprisingly, this heavy satchel of contradictory emotions did not compel me to make a list of resolutions.  Instead, the mayhem, marvels and “aha” moments that have come from raising my three teenagers over the last year coupled with the transitions and triumphs I have experienced as their parent reminded me of just one word.  The word is TODAY.  While resolutions can certainly lead to change, I believe this one word will move my attention to just the right place over the next year.

TODAY I will resolve to do what today requires of me.
TODAY is here now, full of possibilities, opportunities, and challenges.
TODAY’s moments are worth noting.
TODAY I can allow myself to be filled anew with God’s grace, mercy and love for me and for others.
TODAY is manageable, doable, bearable.
TODAY has great purpose.
TODAY offers me an invitation to shift my gaze from the horizon beyond me to the ground beneath me, the steps ahead of me.
TODAY, I get a chance to apply what I learned yesterday.
TODAY, I have just what I need to endure the unexpected challenges and to revel in the unearned graces.
TODAY, I can determine to love and encourage my family well.
TODAY, my teens are indeed, changing. TODAY, I am too.

Surely, 365 fully embraced TODAYS are certain to equal another year of layers on top of layers of instants and insights that God will again use to weave me, my husband and our house full of teenagers into people who will reflect Him, honor Him and love Him more and more as time goes by.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “TODAY,”
so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.       Hebrews 3:13-14

 

Pornography and Your Teen’s Brain

By the time most  children reach the age of 11, statistics show that more than likely they have already been exposed to some form of pornography.  While most exposures occur through emails, social media, or ads on the internet, many kids easily access pornographic images, movies and programs through the television.  With over 372 million pornographic webpages available through the Internet, it is abundant and readily available to children and teenagers with very little effort.  Because of the impossibility of being able to completely shield kids from ever seeing pornographic pictures or movies, more than ever before parents must be aware of its impact and begin to effectively address this problem.

Through the years  many have debated, downplayed, or even dismissed the possibility that pornography could negatively effect an individual and/or their relationships with others.  But as God continues to allow scientists to understand more and more about the human brain, we are now able to gain a clearer and more accurate picture of the negative impact that pornography has on the mind. Because the brain is involved in everything we do, whatever impacts the brain also greatly influences other areas in a person’s life.

Using fMRIs and other investigative measures, researchers are able to identify the powerful combination of sexual hormones and other neurotransmitters released while an individual views pornographic images.  These are very similar to the sequence that occurs in the brain when a person experiences heightened excitement and pleasure from substances like heroine and cocaine.  Because the brain is designed to record and remember pleasurable encounters, the individual begins to crave more encounters hoping to replicate the euphoric experience once again.  Similar to other addictive cycles, however, the brain slowly begins to become less satisfied unless the new experience is more intense, stimulating or thrilling than the one before.  Over time this neural pathway in the brain becomes reinforced and preferred which  leads a person to greatly desire this activity over others.  This is how the vicious addictive cycle slowly begins to control the heart and mind.

Aside from the research that is revealing how and why the brain becomes quickly addicted to pornography,  there is another critical dilemma that must be mentioned as well.  When an individual is watching any activity, specialized cells in the brain called mirror neurons store behavioral or motor  information that is later accessed to be able to mimic the previously observed behavior.   Because pornography offers the brain a perverted, immoral and often violent representation of sex and sexuality, this will now be a major part of the template the viewer will access and use  to powerfully shape and influence his/her own behaviors and attitudes related to attachments, sexuality, the purpose of sex, the value of women, and the nature of intimate relationships.  If this still doesn’t shock you or cause your heart to sink, consider this.  The largest consumers of internet pornography are between the ages of 12 and 17 years of age.  Think of the millions of pre-teens and teens whose brains have begun to daily crave pornography and whose minds now have a gravely skewed,  immoral and perverted imprint for sex and sexuality in relationships.

What I find most interesting about the vast majority of the research, documentaries and articles is that, for the most part, these inquiries are not being conducted by Christians or a moral majority who are intent on proving a point.  Instead, most of the neuro-scientific research, reports and documentaries are being completed by scientists, social scientists and journalists who are interested in understanding what may be lurking behind the exploding interest in pornography.  Pornography is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide ($57 billion)  with revenues in the US alone exceeding those of  ABC, NBC and CBS combined ($12 billion, with $3 billion solely from child pornography).  While it is difficult to gather sound statistics regarding the numbers of individuals who are reportedly addicted to pornography, the negative impact of  pornography is now being substantiated by an abundance of  research.  I am certain there isn’t a marriage therapist or pastor who wouldn’t agree that pornography is overwhelmingly linked to the problems and ultimate demise of many, many marriages and families, both in and out of the church community.

A few decades ago scientists were also very helpful in clearly pinpointing the effects of drug and alcohol use on the brain and the body.  In response to this information millions of dollars began to be poured into prevention programs to educate and deter kids and teens from using drugs and alcohol.  Proactive parents didn’t wait for their kids to hear this information from their local DARE program.  Instead, they knew this was ultimately their responsibility to have planned and spontaneous conversations with their kids about the risks and consequences of drug use.  While this problem may seem very different, the grave impact on the brain, body and quality of life also exists with regard to the problem of pornography.  Preventive and educational programs may never be implemented in the public school systems,  but if they ever are I am quite certain they will be not presented from a biblical world view.

Parents, I implore you to begin this critical conversation with your kids and keep it going throughout their adolescence and young adulthood.  Yes, we can safeguard our homes to make it difficult for our kids to access pornographic images through social media or other outlets.  That will never be sufficient.  We must have consistent and directed dialogue with both our sons and daughters to protect them and their future families from the serious impact that pornography has on the brain of both the young and the old. Regularly, take the the time to teach your teens that…

  • pornography can actually change their brain, increasing their desire for more and leaving behind a neurological template about sex and sexuality that is distorted, perverted and in complete opposition to God’s plan. 
  • pornography, like every other perversion, is one more byproduct of sinful man living in a fallen world.  (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 6:18-20)
  • they were created in God’s image, which means they will always have a deep yearning for intimacy in relationships. This desire stems from a deeper desire to know and be known.  (Genesis 1:26)
  •  their sin nature will lure them away from God’s design for anything, including sex. (Galatians 5:16-21)
  • they are in a spiritual battle every day against an Enemy who desires to destroy their body, heart, mind, and soul and that pornography is one of the many ways he is attempting to do that.  (Ephesians 6:11-17)
  • God is faithful to convict His children when they are tempted and will always provide them with a way of escape if they yield to Him. (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • pornography offers only a  false sense of intimacy, which always leads to increased emptiness, loneliness, guilt and shame.
  • if they do succumb to the temptation to view or even participate in pornography, they are not neurologically doomed and God can set them free from their addiction but they must confess their sin and consistently yield to God and His plan for their life.  (I John 1:9)
  • they will never be fully satisfied when they seek anything apart from God and His will for their life. (John 4:13-15; Philippians 4:19)

 

I don’t know about the teens in your life,  but mine need to hear things repeatedly so they can wrestle, debate and hopefully absorb what is being said to them.  In order for teenagers to truly assimilate these and other related biblical truths, one conversation will just not cut it.  We must engage in ongoing conversation about this and equip our kids to resist the temptation to minimize and/or engage in pornographic activities.

The truths about pornography and its destructive effect on the mind, body, heart, and soul are not being taught in their school.  Most of your teen’s peers are ignorant of these truths and for many different reasons most churches tend to avoid discussion about this problem as well.  So, who will tell your sons and daughters about God’s perfect plan for life, for intimacy, for relationships?  Who will fight for their minds and hearts so that they can be shielded from the devastating effect of pornography?  

Pray, ask the Lord for guidance, for opportunity, for spiritual insight and for compassion as you take the initiative to begin a conversation with your teen about a toxic problem that is daily impacting the brain of millions of young people and as a result destroying lives, marriages and families around the globe.

For other helpful articles on this topic, click on the links below. 

http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/sexuality/when_children_use_pornography.aspx

http://www.equip.org/articles/the-effects-of-porn-on-the-male-brain-3/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/Porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html

STAND CORRECTED: Why our posture as a parent really matters

Do you ever casually check yourself out as you walk by a window?  Come on now, be honest.  I think we all do the occasional check over to make sure our hair, face or clothes are looking acceptable.  Recently, while strolling from one end of a shopping plaza to the other, I took a moment to coolly turn my head to the left so that I could get a quick glimpse of myself.  I think a little ‘eek’ actually slipped out when I caught sight of my image!  No, my hair wasn’t sticking up and my clothes weren’t revealing anything.  And, thankfully my face did not seem to have any glaring makeup hitches either.  What grabbed my attention was my horrible posture!  My frame looked like it belonged to a weary, elderly woman with her shoulders hunched forward and her head aimed downward.  “Wow, could that be what I look like all the time?” I thought to myself?  Determined to fix my unattractive posture, I quickly adjusted my spine, rolled my shoulders back, lifted up my head and continued walking.   I’m not going to lie.  I did check myself out several more times on this particular stroll, just to make sure that I was maintaining my corrected posture.

When I returned home I decided to do a little research to help me continue to address this potentially chronic problem.   Like any mom looking for help with a medical condition, I went straight to the internet where I read some helpful tips on maintaining good posture.  One of the first pictures that appeared showed silhouettes of common posture profiles.

Immediately, I recognized the stance I had seen in my reflection earlier that day. Eager to make sure that I would remain in the “correct” position at all times, I made a list of exercises I could begin to do that would help strengthen my core.  As I read about the relationship between the core and posture problems, the Lord allowed me to see a powerful parallel between our physical posture and our parenting posture.   Each of the spinal postures seemed to be readily associated with parenting styles I had seen in myself and others over the years.  Even though correcting our physical posture prevents many problems down the road, our posture as parents impacts not only ourselves but also our entire family.

We live in a world where sadly there are too many parents whose parenting posture is indeed a hollow posture.  They are spiritually empty inside and in many ways do not know who they really are as an individual.  They may appear grounded but they parent from a perspective that wavers and changes from day to day or mood to mood.   As a counselor, when a parent like this is resistant to inviting God into their life, they are difficult to guide.  Any tips, strategies or insight offered become nothing more than pieces of debris floating within them rather than buoys or principles anchored in God and His word.   As a parent of teens, this parent is often open to everything and anything and allows the wisdom and trends of the day to be their primary guide.  They are, as Paul describes in Ephesians 4:14,  “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine”.  A hollow parenting posture will negatively affect the moral and spiritual foundation that is best constructed in an individual during their childhood and adolescent years.

Other parents have more of a slumping posture.  This parent has a relationship with God but is often unwilling to allow that relationship to be applied to everyday life and the  battles we face as parents.  They have difficulty leaning into the Lord and instead rely more on the opinions of others when it comes to raising their teenager.  As a result their stance is not always firm; it’s actually quite slumpy.  Slumping parents are easily manipulated and their kids and their friends recognize this as well.  These parents may “correct” their posture for short periods of time but all too often slip back and slump when the demands around them become unbearable.  These parents lack the internal security and confidence that comes from continuously depending upon the Lord for their guidance, strength and support.   They long for the quick opinions they can receive from  peers, publications and even parenting experts instead of the slow brewing wisdom that comes through prayer and spending time in God’s Word.  As a result slumping parents often appear anxious or restless as their internal insecurity is not grounded in God and His spirit within them.   Kids and teens whose parents slump quite a bit often grasp at things outside of themselves as they strive to experience resolution and peace within.

The parent with a military posture is determined to never appear like a slumping parent.  This parent is often over controlling, rigid and takes great pride in having complete command of the ship they call “home”.  The members of this vessel know who is boss and make sure they never rock the boat.  This parent responds to the ups and downs of the teen years by tightening up security measures and punishing anyone who crosses the line.  While this might seem to be just what adolescents need, the heart behind a parent with a military posture is one of fear.   In fact, their internal stance differs little from the parent with the slumping posture.  They spend inordinate amounts of time making sure that they are doing everything right yet often do that at the expense of maintaining a healthy relationship with their teenager.  When this parent hits the unpredictable or stormy waters of adolescence, they are often easily angered and even bitter that their perfect parenting posture did not prevent the mess they face.  Too often parents with a military posture forget that God is the captain of their ship and surrendering to His perfect plan in all things (even parenting teens) is the only way to make it through the storms we will face.

Finally, there is the parent with the rounded posture.  As you can see in the image above, this parent appears to be physically giving up.  This parent may have a relationship with God but appears to live life more like the hollow parent.   I meet many rounded parents in my counseling practice.  Some are spiritually going through the motions of walking with the Lord, but in reality they are going around and around the same battles and problems again and again.   As a result their hope is diminishing and their hidden feelings of despair are often quite high.   Sometimes these parents have faced repeated struggles that have led to feelings of disillusionment and disappointment in their walks with God.  They circle Him, looking for hope but often resist the deep healing connection that He desires to have with them.  When their kids act out during the adolescent years, these parents are often so weary and hopeless as they view their kids’ problems as one more thing that has gone awry.   Unfortunately, many parents with rounded postures unintentionally detach themselves from their kids during the teen years to shield themselves from more discomfort.  Sadly, these teens will often be left to navigate themselves on their own because of premature emotional and/or physical abandonment.

All four of these postures clearly differ from the corrected posture or better yet, “correcting” parent.  From a biblical perspective, this parent would be considered a shepherd.  They are grounded in the Lord and define themselves as an individual and as a parent by standards set forth in His word.  This parent is not perfect and knows that.  As a result they regularly seek out the help and wisdom to raise their teenagers that can only come from personal time spent with their God.  A parent with a corrected posture knows that there is nothing like the dwelling place of the Lord and firmly believes

 The Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk
uprightly.
How blessed is the man who trusts in You
. Ps. 84:11-12

Parents who shepherd their teens walk uprightly and rely on the Great Shepherd to daily correct, lead, guide, strengthen and sustain them in their role as a parent.

Parenting teenagers can certainly challenges the posture we carry throughout the day.  For many of us, this season of life jumps into our lives before many of us are really ready for it.  It seemed that yesterday we were changing diapers and organizing play dates while today we are guiding our teens as they deal with their own messes while they are dating!   If we don’t take a moment to catch a glimpse of who we have become as a mom or dad during this season of parenting, we might be very startled and even caught off guard by our current parenting posture.   Take time to use the mirror of God’s word to determine what kind of mom or dad or adult friend you are in your relationship with your teenager.   Allow Him to regularly adjust your posture and strengthen your core so that you can become the shepherding parent you were created to be.

 

When YOU Cross the Line With Your Teen

One of the most frequent themes that inevitably arises while chatting with parents of teenagers is most certainly the topic of limits, boundaries and consequences.  With adulthood looming on the horizon, teens love to test the limits and exercise their independence.  As a result, parents are always trying to stay one step ahead of their teen by mastering the art of setting good limits and responding to the rebellion in a way that will be helpful to a teenager.

But what happens when you, the parent/adult,  are the one that crosses the line?  What do you do when you have said or done something that is completely inappropriate and possibly  wounding to them?  Maybe, your behavior was a direct response to your teen’s negative behavior or attitude.  Perhaps, you felt provoked, unprepared or even attacked.  Whatever the case, there is never an excuse for verbal or behavioral retaliations toward our teenagers.   The inappropriate words or behaviors never help or heal a bad situation  and often deeply stab at the heart of your teen.

Unfortunately, most parents have or will cross this line at some point or another.  Recently, I leaped over the line by reacting to the sin of one of my teenagers by sinning right back at them.  During a family devotion (of all things!), one of my kids had been displaying an obstinate and resistant attitude by offering curt answers and sarcastic remarks.  While my husband continued leading us in a discussion, this particular child seemed determined to distract and disable our time together.  My husband calmly attempted to redirect him and remind him of the limits and expectations as a family.  A few minutes later, I thought I heard our grumpy teen utter an ugly, cutting comment toward his brother who had been trying his best to ignore his brother and participate in the conversation.   Frustrated by his unkind manner and his refusal to just be nice to everyone, I abruptly stood up at the table, exclaimed some harsh words his way and physically corrected him in the most immature and unnecessary manner.

The whole table fell silent and I immediately felt a wave of conviction come over me.  My husband’s bewildered expression combined with my son’s tear-filled eyes added to the shame that was swimming around inside my heart.  Ugh. Aaah. Gulp.   “What had I done?!”  How had I let something so minor get to me in such a major way?  After apologizing to my whole family and individually to our son, we proceeded to finish up our time together.  Even though he had accepted my apology, I still pursued a private conversation with him afterward.  I was humbled and blessed by the genuine forgiveness he had offered me as well as his desire to apologize for his earlier behavior.  Despite the grace I had received from my family and my son, throughout the day I found myself wanting to do something more to make things right.  In the midst of this battle in my heart and mind, I was reminded of a passage in the book of Micah.

In this short book in the bible, we are given a true picture of our God who hates sin yet loves the sinner.  Through the prophet Micah, Israel is reminded of how they have repeatedly forgotten their covenant with God by refusing to live by the standards that He had given them.  He tells them that God is angered by their sin and will pass judgment upon them because of it.  In the midst of God’s words of judgment, however, He mercifully offers forgiveness and new life to those who will repent and follow Him. When the people suggest bringing gifts and sacrifices as a way to make things right with God once again, the prophet Micah tells them

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (Amplified Bible)

The same is true for you and I today.  Whether you have sinned against God, your friend, your spouse or your teen, the very best thing that you can do after you repent and confess your sin is to move forward in His grace.  Ask the Lord to help you as you commit to act justly, to love kindness and mercy and to exude humility as you humbly walk with Him.  Your temptation to do anything else will lack the redemptive power that comes when His streams of mercy and love and kindness flow out of you and into your relationships.   This is good.  And this is what the Lord requires of you when you wound someone.   May you find freedom in His forgiveness as you commit to walk this way as a mom, dad, or friend of a teenager.

Constant Conversation

The changes that occur in our teenagers often accompany shifts that begin to occur in our relationship with them.   Many parents notice their teens spending more time in their room or with their friends.  As a result,  there is often a steady reduction in the amount of time parents are interacting and conversing with their kids as they approach adulthood.  While this desire for separation and solitude is certainly a natural part of adolescence, parents are more limited in their ability to guide and disciple their teenagers if their kids aren’t around as much as they were.  For many parents, this disconnection offers the solitude and relief they have been craving and even dreaming about for so many years.  But, as I have written in earlier posts, during these last years we must pull up our boot straps as parents and intentionally seize the opportunities God has given us to continue  instructing, guiding, loving, supporting, admonishing and correcting our kids while they are still under our roof.

Rather than expand my thoughts on why this need for constant conversation is so critical, I thought I would direct you to one of my favorite books for parents of teens.  In his book Age of Opportunity, Paul Tripp gives parents a biblical perspective on this issue and why it so important for parents to keep the conversation going well into adolescence and young adulthood.  Below is an excerpt from a section in his book where he discuss some critical strategies for parenting teens.

Why do our teenagers need constant daily conversation? Why is it dangerous for us to let days, weeks, sometimes even months go by between personal, self-disclosing conversations with them?  Hebrews 3:12-13 answers this question for us and provides a model for our daily interchanges with our teenagers. 

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.             

This passage gives us a reason for constant conversation with our teenagers.  The reason comes in the form of a warning against turning away from God.  Notice that the turning away refers to a turning away of the heart.  The heart always turns before the eyes, the mouth, the ears, the hands, and the feet. 

As parents we want to do everything we can to protect our teenagers from falling away.  We want to protect them from rebellion, unbelief, rejection of God, and the hardening of their hearts.  To do so, the writer of Hebrews says, we need constant conversation; that is we need to encourage them daily.  Our teenagers (like all of us) need daily contact and daily help.  They need daily encouragement and daily exhortation.  They need daily pleading.  They need constant conversation. 

The constant conversation model means being willing to pursue your teenager.  It means not living with the distance that he has introduced into the relationship.  It means hanging in through those uncomfortable moments when you’re not really wanted and not really appreciated, and forsaking a negative relationship where you only have meaningful talks when your teenager has done something wrong. 

Be committed to prevention.  Don’t settle for nonanswers.  Ask good questions that cannot be answered with the teenager disclosing his heart (thoughts, motive, purpose, goals, desires, beliefs, values, etc). Finally, always bring the Gospel to each of those conversations.  There is a Redeemer.  He has conquered sin and death.  He present as the Helper in all my trouble.  There is hope!  Goliaths do die! Change-radical heart and life change-is possible!

A parent who has his hope in the Gospel will pursue his teenagers and will not stop until they leave home. We won’t wait for them to come to us for help.  We won’t argue with them as to whether we are needed or not.  The call of the Word is clear.  With hearts filled with Gospel hope, we will question and probe, listen and consider, plead and encourage, admonish and warn, and instruct and pray.  We will awake every day with a sense of mission, knowing that God has given us a high calling.  We are walls of protection that God has lovingly placed around our teenagers.  We are the eyes that he has given that they might see.  So we converse and converse and converse.  (Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity,  excerpts from p. 223-226)

I am often asked by parents what they are to do when their teen seems uninterested or even resistant to having any conversation with them.   For many different reasons, some kids don’t demonstrate outward interest in your pursuit of them.   That does not, however,  let you, the parent, off the hook.  We are to continually model God’s gentle and loving pursuit of us as His children.  He never, ever stops pursuing His children.  Nor should we as parents.

You might begin this constant conversation by stepping into their world and showing a non-condemning interest in their passions, struggles, conflicts.  Ask good questions and seize the opportunities that you have with them every day.  Pray that the Lord gives you insight into any resistance you experience while you pursue them.  And be wise about when and how to start a conversation with a guarded or defiant teenager.  Often times the best conversations between parents and teenagers occur during those unplanned moments – car rides, trips to the doctor, preparing food in the kitchen, or doing mundane tasks around the house side by side.  These are the opportunities that God gives us each day to “encourage one another daily while we still have today.”

Today, ask the Lord to prompt your heart to notice these and to be ready when they happen.  I pray you will have many opportunities to lean in, listen well, love unconditionally and lead boldly just as our Father does for us each day.

Are you ALL IN Too?

Our oldest child, Emily, just began her freshman year at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  This past year has been a complete whirlwind.  Like others who have traveled this road before us, we experienced many conflicting feelings along the way- joy and sorrow, excitement and angst.   Mixed in with all of those emotions was amazement.  No, it was not because Emily is an amazing girl.  Though I believe if you met her, you’d agree that she really is.  And it was not because the school she had chosen to attend was so incredibly amazing either.  Though, I am certain that many alumni could give me a long list of reasons why Chapel Hill is truly an amazing place.  We were most amazed at how quickly Emily became a devoted fan and completely, committed follower of her new school.

Now I realize that instant devotion following a commitment to college is par for the course.  Many high school seniors immediately plaster that university bumper sticker on their car and wear clothing which bears the name of their college selection.  Even so, we just didn’t expect to see this drastic change from our daughter.  You see, ever since Emily was born, she has been wearing clothes that have the name of our alma mater on it.  Our university’s logo was on her bibs, onesies, t-shirts, cheerleading uniforms, water bottles, and even on her school supplies!  One of her first phrases as a toddler was, “Go Duke!”  Whenever she saw our team name, she reflexively exclaimed these two words.  And after eighteen years of cheering for our team, all of a sudden, Emily Perry is a Tar Heel!

Her brothers are just not okay with her new allegiance to the “dark side”.  All summer they have taunted her and mocked the light shade of blue she now wears with such pride.  Despite their provoking, Emily has remained completely resolute about her decision to attend Chapel Hill.  When she said “yes” to their offer, she indirectly said ‘no’ to every other offer that was made available to her , including our alma mater.  And while that has made for some playful opposition at home, just between you and me, we are very, very  pleased that Emily is ALL IN.   Her enthusiastic commitment arose because she realized that what she was being offered was a privilege not a right.  This attitude to be ALL IN as a student at the University of North Carolina will undoubtedly make her college experience more rich and meaningful.   Her determination to be faithful and loyal, even in the midst of opposition and ridicule, will cause her to link arms with other devoted followers for strength.  Together their strength and devotion will offer her encouragement and support when she faces discouragement, despair, and even defeat while she is on the Hill (especially during basketball season !).

I have to wonder if the disciples were in a similar position at the onset of their calling to follow Jesus.   They were being given the opportunity to live life with Jesus, the rabbi who was performing miracles and attracting crowds wherever he traveled!   Even though being picked by him was an unparalleled honor, they too had to say goodbye to other paths that had been offered to them.  The cost of this decision could not have been very clear at the onset.  Perhaps, they found strength in the crowds at first.  But as more and more followers abandoned Jesus, the disciples were often reminded by Jesus that following Him would not be easy.  Jesus said, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)  Jesus told the disciples they needed to be ALL IN.  He also told them that the Father would “enable” them or empower them to follow Him.  (John 6:65)  I am certain they regularly reconsidered the decision after many followers deserted or opposed Jesus. Eventually Jesus asks the twelve if they wanted to leave as well.  Peter who had certainly evaluated other options replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Now that all of my kids have returned to the classroom I, too, must take take some time to reevaluate who my teacher is as well.  A disciple is a completely committed follower-someone who has decided to be  ALL IN.  In a world where principles, opinions, ideologies and philosophies that oppose Christ are heralded and godly wisdom and biblical principles are regularly mocked and minimized, disciples find strength by His Spirit, through His word, and by fellowship with other committed followers.

As I hear about Emily’s new classes and see my kids studying at home, I must ask myself who I am following.   Do I know my Jesus because I am actively seeking to study the way He lived, loved and labored on this earth?

When my kids are passionately cheering for their teams, I must examine what I am fervently praising.  Where is my emotion, energy and enthusiasm channeled?  What do I really worship?

When my kids begin to talk about their peer groups at their respective schools, I must consider  who surrounds me.  Who do I walk beside  and who is encouraging me to fix my eyes on Christ when I face trials, challenges and opposition?

Our kids need us to remain devoted followers.   Choosing to be ALL IN is the best decision we can make as a mom or dad.  Our kids crave examples of what real life as a disciple-a completely committed Christ follower- is like.  Every single day they are enticed to follow something or someone else.  All of these paths begin with alluring messages yet end with false promises.  Eternal life can only found by following Christ and His ways.  Even though our kid’s interest in being ALL IN as a  Christ follower may seem minimal or even non-existent, we must remember our own youth and how we were drawn to steadfast people who lived life with passion and purpose.  Our willingness to stay genuinely committed to Christ will always garner more respect, curiosity and admiration from our kids than a parent who follows anything and everything or nothing and no one.  No, we can’t force our kids’ allegiance to Christ but we can trust that our resolve to be ALL IN as a disciple of Jesus will be the most enticing and life giving path this world has to offer.

 

Tempted to Steal from a Teen?

I am convinced that more and more parents are stealing from their teenagers these days.  No, they aren’t stealing money, electronic devices, clothing, jewelry or any other material possession from their teen.  Instead, they are robbing their teens from learning how to clean up after the messes.   Even though I can go on and on about the chaos that exists in each of my teen’s backpacks, personal spaces and for that matter their entire  room, the messes to which I am referring are the mud puddles that splash on my teenagers as result of their own poor decision making skills, impulsivity and immaturity.  These are the problems that affect their grades, relationships, reputation, emotional stability and often their bank account.

What happened to the adage,  “You mess it up, you clean it up”?!  When this simple little maxim is applied to the life situations that teenagers regularly encounter, then kids have  the albeit uncomfortable opportunity to learn how to clean up after themselves.  These stressful yet powerful opportunities can empower them to become independent, self-confident, humble, and godly young men and women.  When these challenges are robbed from them by parents or other well meaning adults who think it is their job to clean up after their teenager, social, emotional and spiritual growth is almost always stifled.

Like any other parent of a teen, I must admit that there are certainly situations where I have felt compelled to jump in, fix, disguise, minimize or even dismiss a mess that my teen has created.   Recently, one of my kids was involved in a situation at school where a teacher had become very angry at them about something they had flippantly stated.  My child did in fact say some very hurtful remarks but unfortunately a peer chose to inaccurately share what my teen had stated with another teacher.   As a result the teacher asked an administrator to meet with my teenager to discuss the situation as well as the necessary consequences.

Spinning around within me were feelings of compassion coupled with anger toward my teen for speaking unkind words and frustration toward the peer who had impulsively repeated and embellished the remarks.  On top of these emotions, I also felt a measure of insecurity growing within as I imagined what this teacher may be thinking about my parenting abilities.  Thankfully, I was able to remind myself that this was not my mess to clean up.  My role in this situation was primarily to 1) listen to my teen, 2) allow his heart to be exposed (the deceit as well as the good intention),  3) speak the truth in love with regard to his choice of words and behaviors, and finally to 4) offer some options on how to wisely and lovingly “clean up” the mess they made…all by themselves.

Of course, my teenager was resistant to the idea of returning to the situation and making amends.  No teenager enjoys dealing with their own “vomit”.  Most would rather ignore it, dismiss it or have someone else clean it up for them.  But opportunities like these are not given to us so that we can steal the lesson right out from underneath them.  They can be used to help our teenagers grow socially, emotionally, and spiritually while they figure out how to be the captain of the clean-up crew.

The teen years are critical years where kids are vacillating between a regressed child and an emergent adult.  I encourage you to play a vital role in promoting the necessary growth and development that enables an adult to begin to emerge right before your eyes.

Consider your role in the next difficult issue your teen is facing and ask yourself these questions.

  • Is this problem really mine to fix in the first place?  Or does it belong to my teenager?
  • Am I rescuing my teen by shielding them from the consequences, instead of releasing them to experience emotional discomfort while they figure out a reasonable solution to their problem?
  • Am I stuck in the middle of their day to day drama in relationships at home, work, or school instead of letting them stumble through the ups and downs of the social scene (even if they get scratched and bruised along the way)?
  • Am I enabling them to become overly dependent upon me to fix their mistakes instead of empowering them to do it on their own?
  • Am I feeding entitlement or fostering humility?

 

More and more, I hear older adults complain about the lack of independence, humility, work ethic and character in today’s teens and young adults.  Without a doubt, many problems at home and in our culture in general are prohibiting kids from developing these qualities.   Nonetheless, I think most of us can agree that these traits tend to bloom within a person when they have had to learn how to maneuver themselves through troubling, sticky and often embarrassing challenges that life throws at each one of us.   Together, let us commit to be parents who can intentionally equip our teens to learn how to clean up their own messes so that a “harvest of righteousness and peace” may be produced within them.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.  Hebrews 12:11-13

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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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.

A MOUNTAIN OF PRAYERS

The prayer of the feeblest saint on earth who lives in the spirit and keeps right with God is a terror to Satan.  The very powers of darkness are paralyzed by prayer.  No wonder Satan tries to keep our minds fussy in active work till we cannot think in prayer. Oswald Chambers

As a mom and a counselor I wholeheartedly believe that the best parents and mentors of teens do two things very well.  They love their teens unconditionally and they pray for them continuously.   Both of these beautifully reflect Christ to our kids and have an immeasurable impact on who they become.

Over the last year I have thirsted for a richer and more consistent prayer life.   I long to be more intentional and more focused in my daily prayers for my kids and the teenagers I counsel.  While there have been a number of books that have been very helpful in directing my prayers,  I found that when I put the book or the list aside,  I would often forget to pray as specifically and as regularly.

In an attempt to create a regular rhythm in my prayers for my kids, I created a visual in my mind to concentrate my prayers on one specific area each day of the week.   Since I was never very good at memorization, pneumonic devices and picture associations have always been necessary for me to remember things.  Those of you who are visual will really latch on to this.  Those of you who are not, may think this is way too complex!  Regardless, I hope this visual will help you understand the method a bit more.

Associating each week with a mountain that we climb and descend, I attach a day of the week to specific points along the ascent or descent.  The first three days of the week and the prayer focus connected with them, logically connect to the ascent up a mountain.   Wednesday is the summit or hump day and is associated with triumph.  The last three days of the week and their prayer focus naturally relate to the descent down a mountain and our kids’ independence on the other side.   As I move through my week I consider what day of the week it is and I find myself repeatedly praying for that one area in their life.  To help you connect each day with the right prayer focus, I have listed each day of the week below and in parenthesis I’ve written some of the reminders or connections I use to remind me of the emphasis for the day.

SUNDAY (Before the journey begins, Christ is foundational.): Pray for your kids’ COMMITMENT TO CHRIST, their walk with the Lord and their ability to remain steadfast in their relationship with Christ.  If they do not know Christ, I pray steadily for their salvation on this day.

MONDAY (The journey has just begun, time to put on your protective gear.):  There is an enemy who seeks to destroy our teens mentally, emotionally, relationally and of course, spiritually.  I pray for God’s PROTECTION over them in each of these areas.

TUESDAY (The climb is getting challenging so wisdom and discernment are needed.):  I pray for WISDOM and DISCERNMENT in friendships, in decision-making, in school, with finances, etc. I pray that they would look to God and the truth of His Word as they make decisions.

WEDNESDAY (They made it to the top! I picture a bold stance with hands in the air.): I pray for my kids’ BOLDNESS on Wednesday.  I long for them to be bold in their faith, bold in their proclamation of Jesus as their Lord, bold in their love, their words and their deeds.

THURSDAY (They are descending toward their own individual life on the other side.):  I pray that they would find their CALLING in life.  I pray that they would listen for God’s leading in this area and that they would trust Him even if this calling is challenging, unexpected, or undesirable.

FRIDAY (The trek is coming to end.  It’s time to celebrate and go out on a date!): On Fridays I pray for my child’s FUTURE SPOUSE.  I pray that my kids would be patient in this area, trust the Lord’s timing and choose a mate that is in love with the Lord.  I pray for their spouse, for his/her family and for their walk with the Lord.

SATURDAY (A day at the bottom might lead to bad decisions and/or temptations): On Saturdays I pray that my kids would be able to RESIST THE TEMPTATION that comes their way.  If they succumb to temptation, I pray they will get caught and that they will be drawn to a place of contrition or repentance quickly.

In James 5:16 God promises that “the effective and fervent prayers of a righteous man avail much”.   I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray and guides our very words in our prayers.  I pray that He uses this tool in your life to help you become a more consistent, effective and fervent prayer warrior for the kids in your life.  Now, go and take some time to pray!  Today is Thursday…pray that they will hear and respond to His call in their life.

 

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