When A Teen is Hurting

Skinned knees.  Bee stings.  Bicycle wrecks.  Sibling spats.  These are just a few of the many circumstances that compel a child to seek out their mom and dad for comfort and relief.  But as kids enter the teen years the struggles they face will often take more than a band-aid, a hug and a few simple words of reassurance or redirection.  Before teens reach adulthood, most will likely encounter broken relationships, academic challenges, friendship problems, personal failures, sudden losses and bouts of loneliness.  Anyone of these can emotionally pummel even the most resilient and well-adjusted teen.  Yet there are other teens who will seemingly glide through problems like these with little fallout.

Regardless, of how teens handle pain parents must be ready to walk beside their teens as they face the varied storms that frequently rise up during the teen years.   Most of the challenges a teen faces will not require the help of a professional counselor.  But unfortunately many parents initially doubt their own ability to help their teens when they are emotionally hurting.  As a licensed counselor I certainly believe that seeking professional help is in order when a teen is quickly decompensating, engaging in dangerous or life-threatening behaviors or unresponsive to a parent’s efforts to walk beside them and help them.   Otherwise, parents must remember and trust that God placed them in the best position to help their kids when pain comes their way.  Just as He guides the Christian counselor who surrenders each client before Him, so too will He offer wisdom, direction and insight to a parent who regularly yields their teen and the tough stuff they encounter to Him as well.

Yes, I know.  Dealing with the depth and complexity of problems that kids are dealing with these days can certainly be a daunting task.  Not only that, a teen’s emotional displays can compel any sane parent to suddenly become emotionally unstable as well.  Nonetheless, a parent’s willingness to enter in, stick beside, and commit to see a teen through life’s challenges will accomplish far more than any paid professional could do for a teen or their family.  Why?  Because whether they say it or show it or ever disclose it, most teens want their parents to be the one who guides them to the other side when the waters become rough.  So roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath and soak up a few tips that may help you as you personally counsel your son or daughter through impending storms.

Enter In:  Sometimes parents forget that teens are still comforted by their parent’s presence when they get hurt.  Teens still lack key emotional and relational skills necessary to cope with big problems.    Entering in does not mean you own the problem, fix the problem or rescue them from the problem.   Instead, it means you remain face forward in your relationship with your teen and commit to check in, be available and offer guidance as you walk beside a teen who is hurting

Remain emotionally and spiritually anchored: If you are standing on a slippery rock, the last thing you reach for is something that is not tightly tethered or firmly planted.  Sadly, that is what many teens have available to them when they are in distress.  Commit to remain a parent who is emotionally and spiritually firm so that you can give them the security they desire.   This means that you consciously separate yourself from their problem and remain a separate individual.  A spiritually anchored parent is praying, seeking God’s wisdom and strength and remains confident of His provision to help them see their teen through.  Your ability to remain emotionally safe, calm and confident in the Lord regardless of the crisis will be one of the most powerful testimonies you can offer your teen about living in Christ.

Actively Listen: Listening well requires an enormous amount of patience, impulse control and emotional energy.  When you actively listen you are not only tuning into both the spoken and unspoken expressions coming from a teen but as a believer you are inviting God to speak to you in the midst of  your conversation.  Discover what lies beneath their words.  What is the focus of their emotion/ pain?  What do they long for?  What do they want/need and what are they doing to get those needs met.  Is there a deeper struggle going on?  As you listen ask clarifying questions that will help you and your teen begin to uncover some of these bigger problems.

Teach:  When emotions are regulated, allow these difficulties to be opportunities to teach your teen.  They need to know how to effectively manage emotions, solve problems and most of all seek the Lord in the midst of their pain.  Counselors use presenting problems as a way of assessing deficits and strengths.  Do the same.  Through it all your own ability to model all of these to your teen will offer the most powerful instruction.

Look Beyond: Be a hope giver.  Most teens have difficulty seeing beyond today’s problems.  When parents can’t see past their teen’s emotional struggles, they can actually thicken the emotional quick sand in their midst.  Offering hope does not mean making false or trite promises.  Instead, it is an opportunity to demonstrate confidence in the Lord and his ability to rescue, resolve and relieve as we lean into Him.

Counseling your teens can be one of the most difficult yet rewarding tasks as a parent.  In Proverbs 4 Solomon tells how his father David encouraged him to seek wisdom when he was a young man.  The Christ-centered instruction and counsel you have to offer your teen offer them far more than anything the world can give them.  May we lean into Him as we love well, lead well and listen well to the teens in our midst.

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.  Proverbs 4:20-27

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
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.


“Oh Captain, MY Captain!”

Parenting can be so wonderful, yet such a challenge as well.  It seems that just when you think your family is sailing well through the season you are in,  something out of the blue arises that stirs you up for a while.  It may be a temporary struggle, a tough challenge, or a storm that seems to linger.

Very recently, I found myself at a place like this in the big ocean of life.   I had just been rejoicing over the place we were in as a family of five.  I was thankful that our three teenagers were doing well and our marriage was strong.  And then suddenly a Leviathan rose up from out of nowhere.  Sadly, my “Aaahhs” were quickly transformed to “Aarrggghs”.  And for some reason I was momentarily surprised that amidst the gleaming waters of the ocean there could also be storms.

I was prompted to write these phrases while reading Psalm 34 and seeking the Lord’s help  that morning.  Whether  you are in the midst of a storm, sailing smoothly, or spinning around in a cesspool, I pray they somehow minister to the needs of your heart.

And the radiant sun, it’s shining.
The wind is blowing and the load is laughing
As the sailboat glides toward that beautiful point on the horizon.

The sails, positioned just right
Are easily harnessing the wind to
Smoothly move our vessel through the choppy waters.

We sail past other water crafts
Some spinning, struggling with the elements of the sea.
Others have succumbed and sink as we float by.

Though my heart is saddened,
My joyful heart sings out for all to hear.
“The God of the seas is good!”
“He is our deliverer!”
“Glory to His name forever!”

And though I try to bask in the radiance of this moment
the face of the sun slowly hides itself behind the clouds.
The winds howl and the waves swell up.

The “perfectly positioned” sails can no longer harness the gusts
And our stressed little dinghy begins to take in the waters of the sea
From within the hull we are jostled to and fro

Splashed repeatedly and forcefully,
The powerful waters beckon us to enter
and mingle with the marvels of the sea

From the stern and the bow we sound the alarm
To look for the light house on the shore
and locate the Captain of the seas

My spirit cries, “Oh Captain, my Captain”
Alive and leading still
I beckon you to lead us out of this storm

And from the depths of my soul my spirit proclaims,
“The God of the seas is good!”
“He is our deliverer!”
“Glory to His name forever!”

And though the clouds linger,
our boat bobs on through the waters
And the Captain leads the way
as the radiance of the Son shines upon us.

Whether you find yourself sailing, spinning or bobbing through the oceans this day,  look to the Captain.  He is not dead.  He is alive and He will cover you with His radiance and lead you to His home.

I will extol the LORD at all times, his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
Psalm 34:1-5



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

The Final Stretch of the Race

The pistol sounded and we were off.  I was happily running beside my 10 year old son as he was attempting his first 5K race.  Since his decision to run with me was made the night before, there had been no time to properly prepare him for the challenges of the race.  Instead, I encouraged him to stick closely by my side, to let me set the pace and to take breaks whenever he needed them.  After the first mile, however, my energetic and naturally athletic son became bored with the pace I had set.  He dismissed my caution to speed up and suddenly took off on his own, sprinting toward the finish line.

Knowing that he would never be able to keep that pace up for two more miles, I began to scan the groups of runners in front of me.  I was certain I would find him walking the course, desperately trying to catch his breath.  I never did.  Instead, I spotted a kid his size just beyond the finish line, lying flat in a patch of grass.  Apparently, my son triumphantly crossed the finish line with an amazing time but collapsed from exhaustion just after he ran past the time keepers.   His shoes were saturated with sweat. Blood dripped down his feet from open blisters on his toes.  Concerned by what I saw, I asked him how he felt.  I will never forget the grin that appeared and the boasting that followed.  Barely able to summon the energy needed to speak, he proudly uttered, “Mom, I never stopped running and I beat your best time on my very first race!”

As we drove home, Alex admitted that several times throughout the race he had seriously considered stopping.  It seemed that every time he was about to stop and take a break, he would tune into the crowds who were visibly and audibly cheering him on, reminding him to keep pressing on.  Apparently, the most powerful motivators were the cheers my son heard toward the end of the race.  These supplied the fuel he needed to successfully complete the race.

What a great lesson for us to consider as we walk alongside teens.  Teenagers are running the last leg of the race called “childhood”.  While the end of this journey marks the beginning of the next, the manner in which they cross the finish line powerfully affects the way they enter the next race set before them.  Like trainers and coaches, we are called by God to equip, correct, and guide our kids well in the race they are all called to run.  But like a great coach, the same tongue that chides should also cheer.  Amidst the instruction, reprimands, and guidance we give to kids each day, we must make sure that we are also offering plenty of encouragement-words and gestures that fuel these kids to push through the battles they face during the grueling and most demanding stretch of this race called adolescence.

Even for those kids who outwardly reject or even resist words or gestures of affirmation, express them with love anyway.    God can use them at just the right time to defeat the negative and even destructive thoughts they may be entertaining as they run the race before them.   In this final stretch, we will never know when our kids are feeling tempted to give up the race that God has for them.  If our words genuinely reflect the voice of God, we can cling to the fact that His words and His truths have the power to strengthen and renew our kids as they crawl, walk, skip or even sprint to the finish line of adolescence.

And as you, my friend, face the final stretch of parenting kids at home, know that you are receiving the applause of heaven as you faithfully choose to mirror the Father’s limitless love for your teenager.    And like Paul you too can say,

I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (2 Timothy 4:24)

Becoming a Neurosurgeon who Powerfully Shapes a Teen’s Brain

New information about the developing brain has helped parents and teens alike to understand that the teen brain is still, indeed, under construction.   High tech images of the brain and pioneering research led by Dr. Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health reveal that the frontal lobe, the most sophisticated region of the brain, continues to grow, develop and prune until a person reaches their mid 20’s.  This discovery and many others like it explain why teenagers can often behave, well… like such adolescents- irrational, impulsive and immature!Since the release of this groundbreaking research many parents, educators and youth worker have expressed their “aha” and nodded in agreement with these findings as they regularly observe evidence that clearly points to an incomplete frontal lobe. Unfortunately, instead of motivating adults and educators to view this as a limited opportunity to powerfully shape the incomplete brain, many have used these findings as an excuse to passively tolerate, and even immature beliefs and behaviors.  Our response to this incredible information should prompt all who work with teens to swiftly move from the waiting room to the surgical chamber.  The regular storms  of adolescence give parents and youth workers many opportunities chance to be like a neurosurgeon to the teen brain.  Never again will this region be so open to receiving and adapting to new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.  I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy who found himself in a powerful position to lead and impact others for a season.  Paul reminds him to…

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:2-3

Adolescence is a powerful season in life when the brain’s immaturity allows it to be extremely pliable or impressionable as hard wiring (neural pathway development) is still being formed.  As parents and adults in a teen’s life we would be wise to view this period in development as a time for us to pull up our boot straps and seize every last chance we are given to mold a teenager’s minds toward assimilating biblical principles and healthy ways of living.  All too soon they will leave the home and enter a world where they will hear people say whatever “their itching ears want to hear.”

So how can you actively shape the frontal lobes of your teenager’s brain?  Well, I bet that many of you are engaging in behaviors and activities that are extremely impactful to the brain.   In an attempt to affirm and equip every one of us to be more intentional, I’ve listed TEN practical behaviors that positively promote the healthy growth and development of the most sophisticated region of a teenager’s brain.

1.      Be consistent in your discipline and consequences.    Parents who are predictable and firm reinforce a teen’s ability to predict consequences, suppress and control negative behaviors, and delay gratification.  God’s rules are clear to us.  Make your rules clear to your teen.

2.     Refuse to rescue or solve problems for your teens. Parents who empower their kids by requiring them to solve their problems are fostering vital neural pathways.  They will need these pathways to be there in order to solve future problems on their own.   When parents rescue their teenagers they deprive their teen’s brain from developing these vital skills/pathways.

3.     Encourage and provide places and spaces for ongoing dialogue.  The brain was designed for relationship and actually grows and develops best in face to face contact and communication.  Be the one your teen turns to by listening well, expressing compassion when necessary and speaking the truth in love.  Our spirits can assimilate biblical truths and principles when the brain feels safe instead of threatened. 

4.     Allow your teen to argue with you (with clearly stated boundaries). I know this sounds crazy.  A brain with a strong frontal lobe is a brain that knows how to think for itself and defend what it believes. This skill is fostered when it is permitted and honed.  Allowing your teen to state their opinions helps them test their ideas and draw their own conclusions as they hear and are challenged by flaws in their arguments.  Even when you don’t agree, arguing always model healthy conflict skills and the expression of unconditional love. 

5.     Be the person you want them to be.  This means managing your mood, your words and behaviors in a way that you want them to manage theirs. Let them see what loving well and clinging to biblical truths really looks like. Mirror neurons in the brain mimic observed behaviors and create templates that become accessible when needed.  In other words, what a teen sees you doing in any given situation will lay down a powerful neural pathway that will prompt them to respond in a similar manner.

6.     Encourage movement and aerobic exercise.  Exercise releases brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  BDNF fosters connections and learning in the brain.  Move and play together.

7.     Avoid yelling or using abusive tones, words or expressions with your teens. The frontal lobe activity of the brain shuts down and the limbic (primitive) regions of the brain flare up when teens feel there are under attack or threatened.  Our tone of voice, mannerisms, and facial expressions impact the region of the brain we are stimulating.  Learning occurs in the frontal lobe.  Safety is required to keep this part of the brain engaged.

8.    Teach your kids how to set goals and offer rewards for especially difficult tasks. Research confirms that the teen brain will do difficult or uncomfortable tasks (crate new neural pathways) when it is reinforced.  Rewarding is goal directed and purposeful.

9.     Engage in playful behavior with your teenager.  Novelty, fun and excitement are also healthy for all brain development.   Adults who connect with teens in fun and even humorous ways are more likely to positively impact neural pathway development when things are not so fun and lessons are difficult to receive.  

10.   Limit screen time (TV, computers, ipads, video games, and other electronics). Research continues to reveal that screens do not promote any activity in the frontal lobe regions of the brain.  We must limit screen time if we want to seize the opportunity we have to impact pathway development in this region of the brain. Remember, a healthy brain requires human contact and interaction.  There is no substitute.

When adults play an active role in shaping a teen’s brain we play a powerful role in shaping the Christian leaders that God is calling our kids to become.  Ask God to give you a vision for who the teen in your life can become with a more mature brain and then look for opportunities to play the role of a “parental neurosurgeon”, powerfully shaping the life and spiritual health of your teen’s brain.


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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