Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A White Girl's Response to Ferguson

In my deepest seasons of suffering, I found that well meaning people said some really painful things.  I knew they had good intentions, but their words were, at times, wounding.  Of course, when you are suffering in pain, you are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to such things.  One of the most often stated responses was, "I know just how you feel."  It was a rare exception when this statement was made from someone who actually had been through the type of loss or grief that I was facing.  So, it never quite sat well for someone to pretend to know how I feel when they were not and had not endured what I was enduring.

This is what has come to mind as I try to process what is happening in our country in regards to the situation in Ferguson.  Because I've reached the conclusion that white privilege is a very real thing.  And as a woman in the majority race in our country, I cannot blithely say to anyone of a different color, "I know how you feel." Because I don't.  I have not experienced what they have experienced.  I have not personally been where they have been.  I can attempt to empathize, but I cannot pretend to have a clue what it is to live in our country as a person of color.

And I have decided that I won't spend too much effort or time attempting to process the facts of the Michael Brown case.  While that may sound callous, the truth is that this case is merely a symptom.  It's the presenting problem of a much deeper issue.  And I personally think at the end of the day, what's happened in Ferguson (and now across the country in response) is really not as much about this specific boy and this specific police officer as it is a case example of the current status of race relations in America.  I personally don't think it's productive to engage in some great debate about the officer and the angle of the gun and the boy and the details or witnesses.  

Because the conversation we need to be having is much bigger than that.  Much broader.  Listen, no matter what any grand jury or judge has to say, the truth is that the Michael Brown case has no winners.  None.  You have a grieving family of the deceased and a hurting family of the officer.  And a community that is unraveling. Both families will forever be changed by this event.  No one wins, at the end of the day.  In my humble opinion. Everyone loses. 

And now, apparently, our country does, too.  Because what happened in Ferguson says a lot about us as Americans.  It says that while ground has been gained in regard to eradicating racism, there is much further to go.  It says that there is still a great divide in America.  It says that white people can try to say we know how you feel, but we don't.  And it says that people of minority races live a different reality than we do and it brings a pain and frustration that we cannot begin to fathom because we have never experienced it.

I was thinking yesterday that I wonder what Martin Luther King Junior would have to say or do in this moment in America?  How could he lead this conversation and help to diffuse this situation?  How would he respond?  What wisdom could we glean?

Oh, yes.  He actually had a few things to say fifty years ago that I think are still quite relevant today.  

--Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 

--Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

--I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

When it comes to this current situation, there is much I do not know.  I have no real answers.  But, I have firmly landed on a few things that I want to express today.  Besides the fact that we, white people, cannot casually tell those who are hurting that we know how they feel.  Because we don't.  We live a different reality because of the color of our skin and we cannot pretend in a condescending voice to "get" their reality.

I also know that as I considered what MLK would have to say and researched some of his quotes yesterday, he landed firmly on one idea.  And that is love.  He, being a follower of Jesus Christ, chose love.  He chose to walk in love and act out of love and speak out of love.  Because that is what our Savior did on this earth and on that cross.  In every situation, in every controversy, in every interaction, Jesus chose love.  And we, being followers of Christ, must do the same. 

As I scrolled through the Facebook feed yesterday, I kept hiding people's post.  And please, hear me, as I am trying to speak from a place of encouragement and love.  I ain't yelling at you.  But, being divisive clouds our call to act in love.  

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.
Titus 3:10

Warning is not my style here on this blog because I am a person who hates conflict.  But I will say that I chose to hide divisive posts yesterday...on both sides of the issue...and I guess that was my way of having nothing to do with the division. 

So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 
1 Corinthians 12:25

What Ferguson shows us is that there remains a division in our country.  There remains dividing lines. We have yet to achieve "equal concern for each other." This was what I told my daughter as I tucked her in last night and she burst into tears about this situation.  She hates conflict too.  She felt scared from the brief glimpse of the protesting she caught on television.  

I told her that it's a tale as old as time.  Division.  Racism.  Hatred because of nationality or religion.  It happened between the Israelites and the Egyptians.  Between the Jews and the Gentiles.  Between the majority race and the minority race, all around the world.  I reminded her that we live in a broken, broken world with hurting and broken people.  

I reminded her of the Martin Luther King Junior speech, "I Have a Dream"--which we make our kids watch every MLK day.  I reminded her that in some ways, this dream has been realized.  Because she does not live in a world with segregated schools or separate water fountains.  That can be celebrated.  But the divide remains.  There is still so far to go.  And while I hate to be defeating, I don't believe that the division will be erased completely until Jesus returns to earth and brings a new heaven and a new earth.

But, in the interim, we -- we have the power to choose.  We can choose to add to the divide, to fuel the divide.  Or we can choose as Jesus did.  We can choose love.  We can choose to be a cooler head that prevails and to stop and listen.  To attempt to understand, acknowledging firmly that we don't currently.  We can come to the table with open hearts and open ears and open minds and see the people, not the situation.  Because behind all this madness, there are hurting people.  

Aside from the firm facts that I don't know how it feels to be black or Hispanic or Middle Eastern in modern day America, I know that Jesus calls us to love and to be mindful of avoiding divisiveness.  And I know one other thing.  Violence begats violence.  Anger begats anger.  No matter how deeply you are wounded, choosing to react in a violent manner accomplishes nothing.  Looting does not accomplish progress.  Screaming does not lead to being heard.  Instead, the end goal must be firmly kept in mind so that the actions can move toward that.  

If the goal is closing the gap between the reality of white privilege and the reality of being a minority in America, then we need to put down our signs and quit pointing fingers and listen to each other.  We need to see past the circumstance to the deeper needs and issues.  We need to respond in love and not react in anger.

At the end of the day, there is far more that I don't know than that which I do.  Yet, I still felt prompted to share my thoughts today.  I'm just a white girl living in the suburbs and raising my kids and enjoying things in my life that I don't even realize are privileges because this is my only reality.  

But I want you to know that I see you.  I see the pain and the wounds and the hurt and the confusion over things that I have never endured.  I see that the minority populations in our country are in a season of suffering.  

And the only thing I have to offer is to say I have no idea how you feel.  But, I'm listening.  

And I choose love.  Not division.  

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Truth about Mommy Fails

I bet if I asked every mom I know about an epic mommy fail, they could quickly recant at least one or ten stories about moments when they felt they totally missed the mark.  In some seasons of mothering, we might feel we are living on an endless loop of mommy fails.  

We have a way of doing that, you know.  Come on, jump in the car, kids...time for a guilt trip!  And for all the times we find ourselves slipping into a guilt trip lecture with our children, we've taken ourselves on a guilt trip many times more. We can lean toward beating ourselves up pretty good.

When it comes to parenting fails, we all have our moments.  

Like this one, which I saw all over social media yesterday.

Or this video, thanks to Jimmy Kimmel, which I find one part entertaining and two parts disturbing.  This one, however, is more of a deliberate "what-would-happen-if-I-pretend-to-mommy-fail."

Oh, those epic moments when we just cringe at how we fell short. 

Today, whilst reading my Bible in the book of Luke, I cannot tell you the consolation I found on this subject as I read about one really truly epic mommy fail.  

After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
Luke 2:43-45

Oh, Mary, Mary.  Can you even imagine?  If you've lost your child for even a moment in a crowd, then you know this sinking feeling.  You know the panic and frustration and anger all at the same time.  Toward yourself for losing your child...toward your child for running off.  I mean, Mary, the mother of Jesus, of all people?!  Can you picture the moment...

..."Um, God.  I've got a problem here.  I seem to have lost your Son."

Yi, yi, yi.  Talk about a face palm moment.  

And then, THIS happens:

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them 
questions.   Luke 2:46

Three days, y'all.  Three long days of searching.  Sometimes, I just wish that the Bible gave more details.  Like, how Mary felt.  Or the conversations she and Joseph had with each other.  Or, where all they looked?  

(And by the way...I just noticed as I typed this paragraph.  Jesus was missing for 3 days...coincidence?  Or foreshadowing the 3 days he would be in the tomb? What say you?) 

So, after what had to be a frantic search, with poor Mary likely going through the whole gamut of emotions, they find Jesus.  Whew!  Mommy fail moment over. 

Or is it?

Here is what Mary said to Jesus upon finding him:

His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  Luke 2:48

Ever since becoming a mom, I have often imagined what mothering was like for Mary with Jesus.  I mean, we are talking the Son of God here.  The one without sin.  Bless her, what an easy gig, right? I'm thinking she never had to correct bad behavior.  He always did what he was asked.  He was kind and respectful and well...the perfect son.

Yet, I love this glimpse of humanness between Mary and her son.  This sorta follow-up mommy fail moment.  When Mary basically lashes out at Jesus for going we all do...often passing the buck to deal with any guilt. 

"Son, why have you treated us like this?" Oh, the irony.  That the Son of God was busy doing his Heavenly Father's work and Mary dares to assert her own agenda there.  I assume her job of mothering Jesus certainly had unique challenges, but it had to be quite unlike parenting her other children.  

Yet, like any mom, her angst and anxiety and guilt and panic all lead her to basically misspeak.  I love it.  Because it makes me feel like I'm in good company when I drop the ball and then essentially take it out on my kids.  Only later, realizing that I had reacted to them out of emotion rather than really thinking it through.  

Can I get an a-men?  Haven't we all been there?  One of my biggest weaknesses as a mom is when I get so focused on a task or my agenda that I snap at any interruption from my kids.  Even if they are asking a legitimate question.

Mary.  I just love her.  I want to sit with her in heaven someday for a decade or two and just ask her all my questions about what mothering Jesus was like?  All that is missing in the Bible between say, his birth and this temple scene and then suddenly his ministry. 

Mary.  Called blessed and favored by God.  Chosen.  Out of all the women in history of the world.  She alone was hand picked to raise that particular child.  

Just like every single one of us.  Anointed and ordained to be the mom to the kids in our care.  Blessed.  Favored.  Chosen.

Yet not immune to mommy fails. 

Because we are, after all, human.

And the God who entrusted these kids to us is well aware.

For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:14

You want to know what God thinks of our mommy fail moments? We need only to look at the verse prior to the one above.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Compassion.  Grace.  Gentleness.  Response -- not reaction.  

Now, there's something we can emulate. There's a plumb line to go to in our mothering.  Asking God to help equip us with his compassion. 

But that doesn't mean we won't still have our mommy fail moments. It doesn't mean our life will be perfect.

Because, oh YEAH, Mary was raising a perfect child and she still had a moment for all of mankind to read about from that point forward, documented in the Bible. A moment where she took off for for an entire day, not realizing her pre-teen son was missing.  Then telling the Son of God how dare he treat her that way? 

So what then?  What did she do then?  We know from Psalm 103 that God is not surprised by our faults and mistakes and brokenness.

So how did Mary move forward from there? 

Interesting. So let's look at the verses immediately following her questioning of Jesus.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luke 2:49-51 

In the context of this passage, Mary and Jesus and Joseph went on about their way, about their life.  Back to Nazareth.

And Mary treasured all these things in her heart. 

I'm still chewing on the significance of this.  That Mary was able to ponder and meditate and treasure these moments of mothering.  All of them.  That she was able to somehow assimilate even her mommy fails as part of the mothering experience.  That she seemingly accepted them as part of the process and she enjoyed her mothering of Jesus.  

That we could do the same.  That when we fall and fail, as we are bound to do, that we remember God gets us.  Completely. And his response is not harsh rebuke or rejection.  But compassion.

And that we could be like Mary.  Treasuring every part of mothering.  Recognizing and appreciating the wonder of being entrusted with these kids.  Taking the good with the bad, the hard moments with the easy.  The victories with the defeats.  And treasuring them.

I looked up the definition of "treasuring" -- out of curiosity.  To help me wrap my brain around Mary's approach to mothering. 

Treasuring -- to retain carefully or keep in store, as in the mind; to regard or treat as precious; to cherish

Oh, fellow mamas (and dads)...that we would regard every part of our parenting as sacred and precious.  That we could laugh at our failures and move forward with lessons learned.  That we could see even the hard stuff and the frustrations as something to regard.  It's all part of this roller coaster.  The valleys and the mountain peaks of life. Every moment of our humanness is something to be cherished and to store up.  It's all part of what shapes us and our children.  

Learning to be broken together, as the Casting Crowns song says.

Learning to accept and believe God's grace and to extend it to others and to ourselves.  

Learning to treasure ALL these things in our heart.

Learning to quit being so very hard on ourselves in a world that is constantly throwing standards of comparison at us.

That we would know that these days, even the hard ones, where we are raising our children, are days of precious ministry.  All of them are treasures.  Knitting our hearts together.  Learning to love beyond imperfections.

I wonder if Jesus and Mary and Joseph ever looked back on this misadventure when Jesus was 12?  Did they later on ever have a good laugh about how they'd lost the Son of God?  Did they chuckle at themselves for how they scolded Jesus?  How they misunderstood what he was all about?

May we all be encouraged by Mary.  Yes, she was blessed and chosen and highly favored by the God of the Universe.  And it had nothing to do with her abilities or her perfection.  It was all about her willingness and her commitment to press on.  To regard the bigger picture and to treasure it all up in her heart.    

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The What If that Makes All the Difference

I'm reading through Luke right now.  Yeah, yeah, family has been reading Luke 2 on Christmas Eve for my entire life. It's one of those four gospels...sure.  Matthew, Mark, LUKE and John. "Let's dive in," I thought with a calloused skepticism.


Am I the only one that can tend to get a bit prideful about reading something that I've already read?  Or I think I've read, anyway.  Don't we all tend to approach church or God's Word or Christianity as if it's stale and there's nothing new to discover?

Wherever you fall on this, bear with me. 

Because like bad fashion trends when everything old is new again, those things that we tend to take for granted have so much to offer when we dare to look at them with a second glance.

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!
Luke 1:45

These are the words of Elizabeth when her younger relative Mary showed up, all fresh from a conversation with an angel. As far as this account tells us, Mary had yet to utter a word.  She had just entered Elizabeth's house, and the baby in Elizabeth's womb jumped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She is all loud and excited as she realizes what has just happened to Mary...what the angel had revealed to Mary.

Without a word, Elizabeth could see -- Elizabeth knew -- that Mary had taken the angel at his word.  She knew Mary believed.

She knew that Mary had just taken God's word for it.  

I've read that before.  But this time, my mind was off and running.

What if?

What if I just took God at his word?  What if I just met my tendency toward unbelief head on and I just dared to take God at his word?

What if I believed that when others tend to harm me, that God intends to use it for good to accomplish bigger things?  (Genesis 50:20)

What if I took him at his word when he said that if I obey his commands and faithfully revere him that he will bless me? (Deuteronomy 6:24)

What if I stood firm that the Lord my God IS God?  As in, he's in control, and he is faithful? Always? (Deuteronomy 7:9)

What if I really cared more about my heart, which God sees, than my outward appearance that man judges? (1 Samuel 16:7)

What if I dared to believe that God has placed me where I am, in this exact time with the exact people I encounter for such a time as this, just as he orchestrated every detail for Esther? (Esther 4:14)

What if I woke up every single day with the absolute conviction that his mercies were new and I had a fresh start and do over? (Lamentations 3:23)

What if I could take as absolutely true that he has removed my sins as far as the east from the west instead of recounting them and being haunted by my mistakes? (Psalm 103:12)

What if I lived each day convinced that greatness is actually serving other people, providing for the least of these, and humbling myself into a position of being least? (Matthew 5:19, 25:45)

What if I truly embraced that God does not give a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind and I refused to bow to fear or anxiety in light of that? (2 Timothy 1:7)

What if I went about every single day, fully trusting that he will give me all I need for life and godliness?  (2 Peter 1:3)

What if I just took him at his word?  What if I actually prayed continually and approached his throne of mercy boldly and sought him first, trusting that all the rest comes after?  What if I traded the burdens I carry for his light and easy load and cast all my cares upon him?

What if?

Because I am learning more and more that the problem isn't that God isn't enough or that he isn't holding up his end of the bargain.

The problem is that I don't take him at his word.  I have a major problem with unbelief.  And it's evident when I worry about something, try to fix even daily struggles on my own, beat myself up over mistakes, give in to fear or anxiety, refuse to overlook the offenses of others, and a million other nasty daily habits.  All of it--every bit of it--boils down to one thing.

I don't just take his word for it. 

Because his Word is full to overflowing with promises and guidance and direction and hope and truth.

And the truth sets us free.

Oh the captivity I choose to stay in because I don't take him at his word. The knots I tie myself up in because I don't fully trust.

That I might be as Mary.  An angel said it.  God meant it.  She believed it.

And she was therefore blessed.The joy that must have overtaken her.

I want to be like Mary.  I want to walk away from any encounter with Jesus, be it reading his word or singing a praise song or seeing a prayer answered... I want to walk away changed.  Convinced.  Convicted of his absolute nature that what he says he will do, he does. That I could live out this truth...God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it.

What grief might I avoid if I lived like this?  

Freedom.  I've already chosen this as my word for 2015.

And I feel sure that I will find it in increasing measure as I pursue his word relentlessly and continually acknowledge my unbelief and shout this Scripture at the top of my lungs, with all that I am.

I do believe!  Help my unbelief! 
Mark 9:24

Because I am coming to see that the reason I live daunted by circumstances is that I don't really take him at his word.  

But when I do.  Watch out.

Undaunted.  Unstoppable.  Undeterred by unbelief.

Then, may I be called blessed because I believe that what he says will be accomplished.

Amen and amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Desert Places

She ran into the desert, away from her circumstances.  Away from the ridicule and rejection.  Away from shelter and safety.  Her situation seemed so desperate that even the desert held more appeal than her home.  The rough landscape, barren and dry, reflected her thoughts and feelings about her own life.  What good could come for her?  What hope did she have?  

Her whole life had downward spiraled.  And she seemed to feel that running from it all, despite the danger, was preferable than enduring it one more day.  

Have you ever been there?  When the things you are facing overshadow your last ounce of hope and strength and you find yourself in a fight or flight response?  Running sounds appealing.  If only you could outrun the pain.  If only you could distance yourself from the circumstances.  Because the wastelands of the desert seem to be the landscapes of your life.  The heat of the sand and the dryness all around mirror your painful fiery circumstances.  Like the groaning Israelites wandering around aimlessly, griping and complaining and preferring even their captivity over the sense of hopelessness there in the desert.

After the birth of my second child, I went through a post partum depression that felt like a desert.  It's strange in hindsight.  Because there I was in what I should have considered some pretty awesome circumstances.  Two healthy boys.  A great husband.  Our first home.  Two reliable cars.  Even an adorable pet dog. And the ability to quit work for that hard year. I have to admit that even in the midst of the post-partum I knew it was illogical to feel so overcome by darkness.  What did I have to complain about?  

But, that was a very distinct desert time for me.  Some days, I struggled to function.  Thankfully, I had a couple of friends who would come to my rescue.  They would pray for me--because I honestly had days I was not on speaking terms with God.  They would invite me over or come help me.  My oldest son became well acquainted with Bob the Builder and other animated distractions.  My husband became adept at cooking dinner for us after a long day at work.  

Even there, even in that desert, I knew God saw me.  But, the weight of the emotions were still overshadowing my days.  I think I could have related quite well to Hagar.  The one who ran into the desert.  

Hagar was the servant of Sarah.  As in Abraham and Sarah.  And she followed her master's commands to help the elderly couple have a child.  She conceived Abraham's son and must have felt pleased that her obedience had the desired effects.  Except she didn't account for Sarah's jealousy and contempt.  The mistreatment was too much because Hagar ran into the desert.  

Perhaps that is where you are right now. In your own desert of grief, or pain, or loss.  In your own desert of unfulfilled dreams.  Or your first round of holidays without your loved one.  Nothing but desert in all directions.  

Except for one thing.  Genesis 16 says that Hagar was met by an angel.  There in that desert.  And the angel gave her instructions and reminded her of God's promises.  And Hagar gave this name to the Lord..."the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13).  

And that is what I want to tell you, bloggy friend.  There in your desert.  There where God feels so incredibly distant and life just feels barren.  I want you to know that you have a God who sees you.  And if your desert feels like a return trip...because your circumstances just keep cycling into wilderness places, then I want to tell you something.

Hagar ran into the desert not once, but twice.  The first time she was pregnant and Sarah mistreated her.  So she ran.  She felt no hope of her future.  The second time, she was sent into the desert, once again because of Sarah's mistreatment.  Abraham sent Hagar and her little boy Ishmael into the desert with some food and water.  When the water ran out, Hagar just waited to die. But her pain and suffering was not hers alone this time.  And distraught over the thought of watching her son die, she placed him under a bush and moved away from him. And she began to sob.

Are your desert places dragging loved ones in with you?  Are you suffering in a season where your spouse or child or someone else you love is in pain as well?  And you are left with your body wracked with sobs.  

Please hold on.

Because not only did Hagar come to know the God who sees her, but there, that second time in the desert, she came to know the God who heard her cries.  

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”  Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.
Genesis 21:17-20

If you are there, in a desert wasteland, please know that you have a God who not only sees, but he hears.  And he will lift you up and take you by the hand.  He has great things in store.  Your life is not over.  He is not done revealing his faithfulness in your life.  He wants to open your eyes and let you see the water that will give you hope.  The Living Water that will quench your thirst.  

He wants you to know that he is with you, just as much as he was with Ishmael and Hagar in that desert. He's that same God.

And he wants to whisper this promise.  He wants you to take him at his word and let it be the knot at the end of your rope.  He wants you to stake all your hopes on him.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19 

He calls us to not be defined by our pasts.  He wants us to not pitch our tents in the desert but to hang on for the new thing.  That's how he does things.  He brings new things out of desert places and the wilderness.  Oh the irony that in my season of post partum it was a trip to the desert of Palm Springs with my husband that turned the tide on my depression.  God literally took me to the desert and showed me that he had new things to come.  And there, in those few days in a literal desert, I felt the cloud beginning to lift, ever so slightly. 

I've begun reading the book of Luke, and on Saturday, all of these thoughts about desert places and new things began to swirl around.  I was brought back to that very harsh and hard summer of 2001.  Because I read this:

I've long remembered the promise that nothing is impossible with God.  But I don't recall ever seeing it in context.  This verse is smack in the middle of the story about Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, who was advanced in years and faithful to God, yet she was barren.  How many tears had she cried in that desert place?  How many times had she wondered why her?  How many times did she wrestle with anger and depression because despite being faithful and even having a priestly pedigree and loyal family lineage...she had no children? She had no legacy.  She had no hope. No future.

But, she who was said to be barren was in her sixth month...for nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:36-37

And it just all ties together the situations of Hagar running into the desert and the wilderness places where we feel we long wander.  Feeling forsaken while our faith dries up.

But God calls us back to the promises of Scripture.  He calls us back to his Word.  To see that he is the God who sees you in your desert.  And no matter how long you dwell there or how many times you find yourself there, he also hears your cries.  

And he, being bigger than all deserts, larger than all circumstances, more powerful than all any wilderness...he is doing a new thing.

Because he is a God who brings life and new things from that which is said to be barren.  It may not look like you'd imagined.  It might be a different course than you'd pictured.  The way he redeems your rocky paths and brings purpose to them may not be like you'd thought. But you can stand on the promises of Isaiah 43 and Luke 1.

He is a God who is doing a new thing.  Do you not perceive it?  He is making a way.  He is making streams in your wasteland. 

Not even death can conquer this promise of God. He brings life even from death.  Because that is who he is.  The God who resurrects our dead places and brings life from the barren.  The God who sees you and hears your cries.

The God with whom nothing is impossible.      

Friday, November 14, 2014

Redefining an Extraordinary Life

This is what we tend to consider when we think of extraordinary people, living extraordinary lives.

People who've achieved extraordinary fame and beauty and who we perceive live glamorous and amazing lives.

People who've achieved extraordinary things, like climbing huge mountains or breaking world records.

People who've become an internet sensation, for whatever crazy reason.  Like Alex from Target.  (This one still has me scratching my head in confusion).

People with amazing talents, who go from your average Joe to a reality star in the blink of an eye, through the turn of a chair.

People who are living large, with the budgets and resources to match.
People who earn incredible rewards and achieve champion status.

With all these images in mind, do you know why I loved social media on Tuesday?  Because time after time, I saw the definition of extraordinary being redefined.  Being celebrated and applauded.  As person after person posted about family members who were extraordinary.  Not because they were famous or rich or incredible athletes or a household name.  Not even because they'd earned awards or accolades, although many of them deserved them.

No, the type of extraordinary that I saw Tuesday was ordinary people living ordinary lives who chose to serve.  They chose to sacrifice and put their comfort and their safety and even their lives on the line.  For the sake of others.  And it sorta left me in a puddle.  To see true heroism and the American spirit celebrated.  Because we stopped, for one day, to consider those every day men and women who have served our country.  

And I've been mulling on it all week.  My mind has been percolating thoughts about extraordinary lives.  So, I want to challenge all of us to redefine what that looks like for us.  In our very own lives.  For our very own children and family. 

Because I think we've over romanticized and over dramatized what an extraordinary life looks like.  In our super size mentality, we've allowed our definitions to be overblown, in my humble opinion.  Even within the context of living out a Christian life, we've created definitions of extraordinary to include moving to Africa to help the poor and creating huge global organizations to fight social injustice and other big crazy things for God.

But, I'm over here talking myself off the ledge.

Because I think the harder thing and the more extraordinary thing that we can do to honor God with our lives is the day to day things.  Not the big crazy wild globe trotting things.  But the things like our family members did when they served in the military.  Things that require us to set our agendas aside and our comfort aside and our very selves aside for the sake of others.  I think extraordinary lives for God actually means things like caring for your family, day after day after day.  Choosing to love even difficult people, extending grace, over and over and over and over.  Choosing to fight hard for your marriage and serve your spouse and encourage their walk with Christ, spurring them on to chase hard after him.  Getting up in the middle of the night, repeatedly, for months on end, to feed a hungry baby. Patiently and repeatedly reminding your children what is right and wrong and encouraging their potential. 

I think we have missed peace and joy and contentment in life because we have raised the bar in our minds about what defines an extraordinary life.  I don't think it's the big things.  I don't think its even the things worthy of any attention or fame.  I think it's living out God's call to continually strive to grow in grace and knowledge and goodness and kindness, in increasing measure.  It's taking time, day after day after day, to read His word and pray continually and invest in your relationship with Him even when you don't feel results.  Because we tend to forget that these tiny investments actually have big pay offs. It's cumulative. It's gradual. 

We tend to forget that the trophies and awards and approval of man is all temporary.  It's all fading.  It's wood and hay and stubble that will burn up when God ultimately considers how we lived our lives for His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:12).  Whether our kid won that award or was the star athlete or received incredible college's temporary. Whether we had the most updated house and the exciting vacations and big awards.  None of it will matter ultimately.

That we would stir in our hearts and the hearts of our children the ability to choose the harder, less glitzy, and more extraordinary definitions of a successful life.  Helping others, choosing grace, serving one another, loving well, working hard, taking God at his word, seeking to live out his commands and just do what he says, day after day after day. 

It's not glamorous.  It's not magazine worthy.  But it is extraordinary.  To pour yourself into building a strong marriage.  To overlook faults and offenses in others because God chose grace over our offenses.  To work heartily at all we do, for God's sake, not others.  To choose integrity and honesty.  To care more about what God cares about than the fleeting rewards of this world. To run to him with every problem and anxiety and concern and and to obey what he wants us to do.  Even if it's just the mundane. 

That's the nitty-gritty.  That's the hard stuff.  To be an ordinary person doing ordinary things with an extraordinary outlook.  Eyes fixed on our Savior.  Doing God things because he sees them as good things.  Whether it's noteworthy to the world around us or not. 

We all tend to be motivated by rewards and accolades and renown.  How easily we lose sight of eternal rewards.  And the ultimate accolade when we see Jesus face-to-face and he says, "Well done, good and faithful servant."  And the fact that at the sound of Jesus' name, every knee will bow, every tongue confess.  Because then, the veil of heaven will be pulled back and every last human being will understand that God's renown is all that matters.  

So, carry on, fellow laborer.  Carry on in the things that are hard and boring and grunt work.  Carry on in the trenches of mothering and marriage and relationships and the work you do every day.  Because it's all kingdom work.  It's all extraordinary to God.  He's placed each of us where we are, with those around us at this very point in time for such as time as this.  Our "greatness" may not be seen by anyone else.  Our sacrifices and persistence may not result in a day when our faces are celebrated and posted on social media.  

But, let's not forget that in the throne room of heaven, our Heavenly Father sees it all.  And he is pleased by our tenacity.  He knows our weaknesses.  He knows our faults.  He covered them all and asked us simply to press on to know Him.  To run hard, with all we've got, in the race set before us.  There may not be media cameras at the finish line.  But we will never regret the rewards we will earn.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Whatever Happened to Little League?

Today, I tackle a topic about which I feel strongly.  It goes way beyond a pet peeve.  In fact, it has caused more angst and frustration in my parenting that I should ever have allowed.  And I don't wish to stir up controversy or to step on any toes.  But, I feel the need to voice something that I think needs to be said.

Here's my issue.

Whatever happened to little league?  Whatever happened to the love of a sport and the fun of it?  To teaching children new skills and to encouraging things like being a team player and being inspired to try new things and to work hard and to build their self-esteem and to be good sports?  Whatever happened to the joy of watching your little ones play soccer, where they tended to pick dandelions and run the wrong and we all thought it was adorable and cute and a rite of passage for childhood?

Because in it's place, I see some cultural practices that are disturbing to me. I see a society that so glorifies success and achievement and athletic ability that children and childhoods are being sacrificed on the altars of win-at-any-cost attitudes.  I see weary mothers, exhausted from driving their eight-year-old to practice three times a week, not to mention game days.  I know moms who have lied to one coach about their child's participation in another sport because their child is supposed to be all in, one sport only.  We're talking elementary age children here. I see the pressure that kids are under to strive to become star athletes, working toward the Olympics and college scholarships and professional sports careers.  I see families who never can sit down to eat a meal together because of their children's sports schedules.

Listen, I just want to know...where did we lose our way and begin to accept this practice as not just the norm, but something to strive for?  When did we begin to feed the monster of huge athletic accomplishments at whatever cost necessary?  When did little league coaches go from being the slouchy dad who just loves to invest in the lives of children to the drill sergeants who treat elementary school children as if they are paid professional athletes?  Demanding more of them than I think many young children are capable of giving?

For the love, people.  Can we stop the insanity?  Can I just remind everyone that THESE ARE CHILDREN?  And childhood should be a fun time, with adult coaches who are encouraging and inspiring and investing in children so that they become well rounded adults?  Not bent on creating star athletes who've been forced to consider such things as private coaching in order to keep up before they hit puberty. And sidelining good kids who maybe aren't destined for the NBA or NFL.  

From where I sit, little league sports have become so competitive and bent on winning at all costs, that we no longer allow it to be a fun and inclusive thing.  It's become so exclusive that this is what is happening in my house.  My ten-year-old feels conflicted.  Because she quit volleyball about eighteen months ago.  And now she is "so far behind" that she cannot play with her friends. Listen, I understand her peers have improved and gained skills and want to compete at the level they've earned.  I don't hold that against them. 

But, I have chided myself for letting her quit.  I have felt anxiety about how on earth she will ever catch up and get ahead because, my goodness, I let her try music lessons for a year, as she requested. 

Then, I stop and think.  SHE IS TEN YEARS OLD!  Really?  How do I let myself get so wound up in this?  This parenting angst goes across the board here in my house.  My oldest is such an incredible kid that I really cannot even describe him.  He is wise beyond his years, hard working, and has the integrity and character of his father.  But guess what?  He never got to play the sport he loves for the schools he's attended.  Because he was not quite tall enough.

Apparently, character doesn't count.  Winning is what it's all about.  Not matter how much effort he has made or how hard he has worked to show his commitment and willingness to play hard and contribute as a team leader. And while it grieves me that several school coaches missed an opportunity to give a great kid a chance, I am weepy when I consider the little league coach who actually poured himself into the boys for years simply for the love of the game.  This coach even came to our house one day after a hard loss to encourage my son that his character and attitude and hard work were of greater worth than the score on the scoreboard. 

Can we clone Coach Doug?

I've had many the conversation to remind my incredible kid that in ten years, those boys who do get to play ball will not likely be doing it competitively.  But, his character, his work ethic, his giftedness will be the key to wherever God takes him. 

I feel as if I'm swimming against the flow here, people.  

And while I'm on the subject, I have another son whose interests are not primarily sports.  He is so gifted and creative and talented and brilliant that I long ago learned I cannot stay a step ahead of him. But sometimes, I think its as if he has a second head because it seems to perceived as such an anamoly.  A boy who didn't come out of the womb begging to wear shoulder pads?  Oh, yes.  I've gotten sucked in to the way we idolize athletes and sports.  Then, I remember.  God made each of my kids exactly as they are, with no mistake.  Who cares if my kid has talents and gifts that don't line up with a shelf full of little league trophies?

Don't get me wrong.  I know kids who loves sports.  Who thrive on the competition and the drive and the hard work.  And I don't begrudge them at all.  I applaud that natural bent and wish them nothing but a perfect arena in which to fine tune their talents.  I love these kids' tenacity and competitive spirit.  And they should be encouraged to pursue their loves and talents.  I have a family member, in fact, who was a collegiate athlete.  She loved her sport and worked hard and deserved that scholarship and all the accolades she earned. She needed a place where she could hone her craft.

But, what of the kids who just want to play some sport for the fun of it?  Can we also just let kids be kids?  Can there be a place for kids to play sports and enjoy them without being made to feel inferior or to be weeded out because they aren't some great or natural athlete?  Where is that place, I wonder? And, for the record, I'm not talking about some "everyone gets a trophy" league.  I'm talking about hard work and winning records being rewarded...but all kids being welcomed.

The older I get, the more grateful I am for the opportunities I had growing up.  I am not a natural athlete.  But, I played little league basketball in sixth grade.  My older sister was my coach.  I was awful.  She was always the amazing athlete in our family.  But, I loved the game.  And so, I kept playing it.  I had to work on my ball handling skills and my outside shots...because I was never going to be tall enough or aggressive enough to be a post.  I spent hours with my dad in our driveway, playing horse.  Those still are some of the most precious memories I have of special times with my dad. 

And I got to play basketball through junior high and my freshmen year in high school, when I quit to do drill team.  It was fun and rewarding and it encouraged me to work hard even if I was never going to be some Brittney Griner.  I went to a small high school, where kids got to play sports.  Maybe they sat on the bench a lot.  Maybe they didn't see much action.  But, they got to be part of a team.  They got to put on the uniform and feel a pride of belonging. They got to work out and work hard and to be encouraged and inspired by the coaches at my tiny school who rewarded great character and looked for potential in all the kids.

It makes me nostalgic.  It makes me dream of such a place for my kids.  For your kids, too.  

Because I think we've lost our way a bit on this one.  I think we've exchanged some magical childhood experiences for the sake of the championship trophy.

And I want to tell every kid and every parent one thing.  

You are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 
Ephesians 2:10

You are uniquely gifted and talented and you are a treasure with much to offer the world.  You are a gift!  Athlete or not... be thankful for the perfect and wonderful way that God made you.  Keep asking him to show you the incredible purposes he has for you in your life.  And then, dare to soar.  Dare to dream big dreams and tackle new things and laugh along the way.  

Whether you got to score the winning touchdown or not.

Sports do not define you.  You are so much more than that.

And I believe big things for you.        

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Truth that Will Change Our Parenting

Let me be clear about something.  Today's blog post is written by me, to me.  Yes, I am writing to myself.  Because today, I stumbled across something--an epiphany--that will literally change my parenting.  In fact, it will change my children.  It will change me. It will change my life and my peace of mind.  I don't think it's overselling it to say that it will change everything.  

Sad thing is that it's something I've known.  Something the Lord had convicted me of repeatedly, since I was a young mom.  Yet, like so many simple truths, it continues to get buried in the complexity of living a busy, information saturated, over competitive world.  Sorta like frustrating yourself by looking all over for your sunglasses--because you forgot they were on your head the whole time.


And I've been frustrating myself over here.  With the thousands of messages being sent my way every single day.  Messages from others, from schools, from social media, from media, from friends, from teachers, from every place imaginable.  Some are messages directly about my kids, some messages are indirectly about my kids, and some messages are general ones that I have personalized.  

My kids were not accepted into some school organization.  They didn't make the team.  They aren't tall enough.  They are too tall. They don't sit still long enough in class. They don't have good enough table manners.  They are doomed because they spend too much time in front of screens.  They are failures because I didn't do the "25 Things that Every Child Needs by the Teen Years."  They should have been on club sport teams.  They can't compete in sports because I let them quit.  They are behind because they aren't already in some elite such-and-such club.  They aren't as smart or clever or talented as that YouTube sensation that was also seen on The Ellen Show. They aren't as spiritual as that person's kids who just recited the entire book of Psalms on the video the mom posted on Facebook. They should be more like that kid who just raised $50,000 for children in Africa through a lemonade stand. They should get along better like the siblings who are best friends because their mom followed all the blog advice posted.

And so on and so forth.

Inundated with messages.  Of failure and comparison and negativity and criticism.  From all over the place.  Who falls for all that?  This girl. This perfectionist and people pleaser can be wound up in knots from it all.

And unfortunately, I often am.  

It's ridiculous.  Because I know better. Yet, I tend to carry the heaviness of these messages.

Today, I had my weekly meeting with three friends with whom I am studying 1 and 2 Peter from the New Testament.  One of the moms was talking about something that happened to her son when he was verbally bullied at school.  She was mad and upset and wound up.

I felt it.  I've been living there myself here lately.

Then, she said she had a revelation as she walked through Central Market.  She realized, while she was praying for her son, that she was upset because, basically, she believed the lies told to her son by his peer.  She bought into it, just like her son had.  

And she remembered something we had talked about last week.  When I had casually joked about a favorite saying I'd learned from a friend years back.  My friend had an older lady at church tell her that the frustration she was feeling as a mom of toddler boys was partly because she was receiving all these negative comments and criticisms and comparisons.  This sweet octogenarian Southern Belle coached my friend to respond like this to such messages:

"I do not receive that.  It's a lie from the pit of hell!"  

Yes, I had been told that freeing truth, learned that response, and have actually practiced it at times.  I've passed it on to many the girlfriend.  

Yet, here I am. I had fallen into that pit of hell myself again, falling for the trap of all the negative comments thrown my way.  Hook, line and sinker.  Forgetting to weigh the comments and criticisms with the plumb line of God's truth about myself and my family.  Forgetting the wisdom of prayerfully considering if there is any valid points requiring change or apologies...and then throwing all else out.

Refusing to receive them.  I have even rehearsed this at times with my kids.  Like when my then 6-year-old daughter was told by a friend that she was, "The meanest person in the whole world!"  And my girl fell apart.  So, I asked her if this was true?  Was she the meanest person in the whole world?  She sobbed a no between her tears.  Then I asked her if she had treated her friend in a mean way--was there anything she might need to change in her own behavior?  She considered this carefully.  I encouraged her to make the changes and apologize where needed.  And then, to remember when such comments are made that she does not have to receive them! She can dismiss them and move along.

Like so many truths of God's Word, I fall into spiritual amnesia.  I know what I'm called to do.  I know the truth that sets me free.  And I forget.  I let my natural inclinations kick in.  And for me, receiving criticism can become a very slippery slope.  Because I over think it.  I'm an overachiever and my own worst critic.  So, I allow any criticism--constructive or otherwise--to just choke me to death.  To steal my joy and fester and grow and condemn me.

And I allow it to cloud my perspective about myself and my children.  

Instead of continually reminding myself the freedom of not receiving lies, recognizing them for what they are, and speaking the TRUTH of our identity in Christ over myself and my children.  

My friend Amy painted the perfect word picture for this struggle.  She said it's like walking down a long hallway in life, where lies and deceits line the walls.  And we have to constantly be aware of not hanging those pictures up on the walls where they can repeatedly speak to us.  But instead, pulling them down--time and time and time again.

Telling ourselves, "I do not receive that!  That is a lie from the pit of hell!"  Reminding ourselves and our children instead who they are in Christ.

For we are wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139).

God has plans and a purpose and good works for us to do (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 2:10). 

We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).

He sees our heart, not our outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7) and we are set apart for his purposes.

We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, belonging to the God of the Universe (1 Peter 2:9).

No matter what evil is intended against us, God can use it for good (Genesis 50:20).

His love for us has no end, and he will fulfill his purposes for us and he will never abandon us (Psalm 138:8).  

He is gracious and compassionate and slow to anger and rich in love toward us (Psalm 145:8).

He will contend with those who contend with me.  He will fight for our cause and we can let him be our defender (Isaiah 49:25)

We are dearly loved--not just tolerated--and he loves us so much that he preferred to die for us rather than live without us (Ephesians 5:1).

And a million more promises and truths which should become our mirror.  His Word is our plumb line and our faith is our shield whenever darts of criticism or deceits about our value and worth are thrown our way. We must remember to not give them power over us.

We should be on guard and alert, deflecting those things that are designed to pull us down, make us feel badly, question our worth, and deny us our value.  Man's opinion must be weighed against God's opinion.  And God's opinion of us trumps all else.

Yet, how easily we fall into the trap of believing false things about our kids.  How easily we measure our success as a parent and their success as a person with the standards of the world.  Their beauty, their popularity, their academic achievements, their athletic achievements, and on and on.  

How easily these insidious and subtle deceits creep in and we completely forget the truth that sets us free.  We are wound in the chains of criticism--from others or ourselves--and we walk around, tied in knots.  When all we must remember is the Truth.  And choose to not receive anything less.  Choose to call it out as it comes, and remember that which is a lie from the pit of hell, designed to defeat us.  

That we would rise up and speak the truth over ourselves and our children.  That we would boldly remind them always what the Bible has to say about us.  Teaching it to them as we walk down the road, day and night, as we sit and as we stand, as we go about our business (Deuteronomy 6:7)---continually teaching our children to see themselves only through the lens of who God says they are to him and to chase after God and not the opinion of man.

That we would quit being so spineless but would gather our strength and stand tall and stand firmly on the truth.  Tying God's commands and promises as a symbol on our hands and binding them on our foreheads and writing them on the door frames of our houses and our gates (Deuteronomy 6:8-9).  Praying against spiritual amnesia so that we can remember who we are, and who our children are to the God who loved them so much that he sent his only son to die for them.  

That we would speak this gospel identity continually and constantly to our children.  Literally writing it on mirrors or printing off Scripture to post around our house.  Praying these truths over our children--audibly as we tuck them in and send them out to the world.  Equipping them to not receive the lies and the criticisms and the deceit about them, but to recognize the lies from the pit of hell and immediately dismiss them.  

To walk out their identity as sons and daughters of God.  As saints who can rest in the salvation he brought us.  As students who study the word and obey it and hold each other to it.  As servants of the Most High God called to the greatness of serving others.  As stewards of the incredible gifts and talents that God has given each of us, sharing our time and giftedness and resources with those around us.  As sent ones--saved ones--who can swim long and hard in the ocean of God's grace and love and can engage others to do the same.

Oh, yes.  How he loves us.  Not because of our grade point average or extracurricular achievements or checklists we can conquer or approval by others.  Not because of what we do at all.  Ever. 

But because of what he did for us.  He calls us redeemed and precious and chosen.  Uniquely equipped to impact the world through the power of the TRUTH of who we are in Him.

Let's receive nothing less.  Let's quit believing anything less.  Anything less than that which God speaks over us, in chapter after chapter, throughout His written word. Allowing His truth to set us free from all the lies of the pit of hell.

Now, Warrior Mamas, when that lie comes your way, throw that hand on that hip and repeat after me..."I do not receive that!"

Monday, November 10, 2014

Teenagers Get a Bad Rap

I caught myself, even as I laughed with the joke.  I'd gotten caught up in a group conversation about the horrors of raising teenagers.  I quickly stopped myself and replied with the truth.

"I kid.  But really, I love having teenagers.  This is a good season. Hard--like all of them.  But it has its own rewards. Don't dread it," I said to the mothers of younger children.

I wasn't blowing smoke.  That is my sincerest feelings about this stage of mothering.  Yet, I find it so easy to get caught in the cultural phenomenon that is bashing teenagers these days.  A phenomenon that I think has happened for generations, actually.  Since the days my husband's grandmother showed her all out rebellion by throwing her leg over the side of her horse and refusing to ride side saddle, like her mama told her. (As soon as she got over the ridge, outside of her mama's line of vision.)

Listen, I know plenty of fellow parents who have and are facing some rough stuff with their teenagers.  I don't want to discount these battles.  Guiding the children you've raised to become mature and responsible and caring and independent and self-reliant and God honoring adults is no easy feat.  The teen years are indeed, crucial and hard and brutal and beautiful.  These years when you are reminded every single day that part of your heart is walking around, outside of your control, learning to make their own decisions and being faced with some big stuff. The battles of the playground become more life and death battles, with the temptations around teens and the responsibilities such as driving. 

The lows and fears are bigger.  With huge implications.  But the moments of victory are also bigger.  Sweeter.  When you get those glimpses of the people your children are becoming.  And you breath a little sigh and say a little prayer of thanksgiving because you see the light at the end of the tunnel.  You see your baby becoming a man...your girl becoming a young lady. And a rough sketch of all they may become begins to form, every so faintly, in your mind's eye.

It's all hard.  Mothering is all hard.  From the angst of how to make your baby sleep so you that you can to the angst of not falling asleep until your teenagers are tucked safely in their beds.  The longer I mother, the more convinced I am that I am sorta making it up as I go along -- never sure, rarely confident, and always praying.

Having two teenagers in my house now, I find myself developing a bit of frustration about how our culture treats teenagers.  Because I think they get a bad rap.  Sure, there are those who exemplify every stereotype of a smart mouthed, disrespectful, rebellious to authority teen/child.  Like most stereotypes, the minority somehow begins to shape opinions of the majority.  

And that's what I am frustrated about.  Because as I listen to my teens and their friends and I watch the world in which these kids have been raised, I think they deserve and are due some good press.  I see teenagers who are working hard to succeed.  Pushing themselves with an inner drive that I find admirable.  Working toward college scholarships and AP credits and considering the future they wish to pursue.  All while balancing and navigating the extremely competitive athletic and academic culture we live in, along with the distractions of technology that no other generation has endured.  

I see teenagers who care deeply.  For others.  Checking in on friends and taking their struggles seriously.  Notifying parents when they are worried about their friends... offering encouragement and support to press on. Not discounting these trials as petty and passing. But listening to the perspective that is their peer's reality.  And knowing that the threats of bullying, depression, suicide, alcohol, drugs and promiscuity are very real.   

I see teenagers with big dreams, such as the high school freshmen who is working on a patent or the 18-year-olds I know who are traveling the world to serve others before they plug into college.  I see teenagers with wisdom.  And a hunger for the Word of God and EAGER for someone to not talk down to them or spoon feed them or just be social.  But someone willing to dig deep and mentor and teach and invest in them. Someone willing to hear the hard questions and actually answer them.  Someone willing to value and respect them for who they are and their potential, rather than discounting them because "they are just a teenager."

I see teenagers who go to school, day after day.  Being disrespected by condescending adults who think they have it all figured out, forgetting what it is to be an impressionable teenager.  Forgetting that an arrogant or mocking tone or words cut deeply beneath the "I-don't-care" armor that many teenagers wear.  Forgetting that the tiniest effort to speak encouragement and show respect is a great way to earn respect.  Forgetting that it is hard to be a teenager, with one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood.  Forgetting that teenagers are actually really fun to talk to and converse with, rather than seeing them as a captive audience who have nothing to offer besides listening.

Yes, raising teenagers means facing some real life scenarios and trying to tune out media stories bent on scaring the life out of every parent in America.  Not all teenagers are represented by those who make the national news as some punk or criminal.  

How easy it is to forget that teenagers are people. In fact, that is one of the things I am enjoying most about my teenagers.  Seeing the people they are becoming.  Seeing them thinking big thoughts and dreaming big dreams and caring big time for their peers.  Seeing them wanting the grace to remember that they don't have it all figured out.  But we can help them try.  We can equip them instead of condemn them.  

We have to look beyond the foolishness -- remembering that their pre-frontal cortex is not yet developed.  This does not excuse poor choices, but it would be helpful to remember that they need us talking WITH them more than talking TO them. Oh, that I could work to connect with the child inside who still needs me to guide and direct them...and for the love, don't disregard them.

The teen years are weird.  One foot in childhood, striving to enjoy every minute of the carefree days before adulthood hits.  One foot in adulthood, navigating some big things that are hard even for grown-ups.  Perpetuating some horrible stereotype of all teenagers does not help the cause.  I remember asking my cousin, years back, what it is she thought her parents did that lead to three such amazing adult children.  

She said, "They didn't sit around waiting for us to mess up.  They believed in us.  They believed we could make the right choices and choose the right things.  They didn't make us feel like they were just waiting for all the mistakes we were about to make."

I, by no means, have this all figured out.  I have my tough days when I feel overwhelmed.  I have my moments of panic, worrying for my kids, struggling to surrender them to God's plans for them.  

But, I try to remember my cousin's words.  I try to remember to connect with my kids.  To convey that I believe in them.  To be willing to have grace to catch them if they fall and help them learn their lessons and move forward.  To not treat all teenagers like one big screw-up.

And when the moments come, when my son sits next to me and shares his thoughts, I hope to tune out all else.  I hope that I can listen with respect and really hear him.  I try to picture them someday, as adults, saying, "My mom was my biggest cheerleader.  She was always in my corner.  She never let up on believing the best for me. She never made light of the things that were important to me."

Oh, that I might be that mom.  That I might be a safe place for my kids to fall.  Holding their feet to the fire to strive for all their potential.  But never mocking them or belittling them.  Trying to remember all the angsts of these teen years...and just melting to pieces every time I see my kids start to soar on their own.

The lows are low.  And the highs are high.

But, these kids are becoming more and more a marvel and a wonder.  Who am I that I should be entrusted with such precious responsibilities?

Steward this well, fellow parents.  Steward this well.  And let's ban together to believe the best for our teenagers.

What if we could turn "teenagers these days" into a resounding applause instead of a negative statement?