Reflections of a College Visit

Nearly eighteen years ago, our first baby was born.

A little girl. 

 Today, we walked from building to building, up and down stairs, all around a campus that, in a few months, will be her new home.

How in the world did we get here?

I remember feeling her move around inside me, pressing her tiny feet against my ribs and bouncing my belly with her hiccups. I remember holding her in my arms for the first time- her perfect little fingers, her head full of black hair. I remember how she cried at bedtime until she was five, how she introduced her baby sister as her “best friend” to her preschool class, how she would build a fort during room-time so she would have somewhere fun to read her books.

I remember so much.

And then, somehow I blinked… and suddenly she’s going off to college.

I know she’s ready. And after today, I know this school is the right choice for her. Her face lit up like a marquis when we drove on campus. It is bursting with both opportunity and purpose, just like my girl! 

Her “circles” have been so small in life- not intentionally, that is just how it has worked out. Her school friends, church friends, and drama friends all overlap in the middle of a Venn diagram. There are benefits to this, of course; it creates a small, cozy cocoon in which a caterpillar can transform into something more.

However, she has also felt the emptiness of the blank space in her circles. While small circles can be both safe and comfortable, they can confine you as well, squeezing a little too tightly when you are trying to spread your wings. 

And our girl is ready to spread her wings!

So we spent the weekend exploring her next home. We saw where she will live, eat, study, and learn. I caught glimpses of her future as a group of smiling students hurried past us on their way to class, and in a table of friends laughing as they discussed homework and weekend plans. We started making a list of what she will need to bring for her dorm room and what clothes she will need to buy so she doesn’t freeze. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

**********

My girl is ready, there is no doubt. She is following the will of the Lord. What more can a momma ask for? 

Absolutely nothing.

Still…

I sure am going to miss her.

The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together. 

Snow Day

It doesn’t snow often in Georgia, so when it does, everything shuts down and time seems to stand still. These are just my thoughts about our snow day…

Knees curled beneath me

Warm and cozy in my chair

steaming mug beside me

I look outside.

The sky is falling,

fluttering softly in tiny flakes

gently to the ground.

Gradually, it piles up

color fading to white

Hectic lives

slowing to a stop-

Frozen in this moment.

Anxious children

peeking out windows

Finally, a knock!

Drawers fling open,

clothes fly around the room

searching, finding, layering,

bundling, zipping

bustling out the door!

Children laughing, sledding, screaming

balls of packed powder

find their mark

Bottom, middle, top are rolled

then stacked

Sticks and carrots, scarves and hats

bringing them to life.

And still, the sky drifts down

while time remains frozen.

Back inside, wet clothes dripping

piled up by the door.

Warm blankets, snuggles on the couch

mugs of hot chocolate,

the salty smell of popcorn filling the room.

Minds quieting, hearts slowing

in a contented sigh

of peace.

Out the window

the Winter Wonderland

holds its breath,

melting slowly,

quietly

not wanting to disrupt

this gift of time.

Looking around, I soak it in

the peace, the laughter

all of us together.

I freeze it in my memory

as my heart floods

with gratitude

for this frozen moment.

Why I’m Thankful for the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Full disclosure:

I had to go on Youtube and watch the halftime show before writing this post. With multiple children and teenagers in the house, I have not watched the Super Bowl halftime show in years! And while I had seen clips and pretty much knew the gist of what happened, I didn’t want to comment without seeing it myself and forming my own opinion. Honestly, I’m thankful I did.

I had not planned to comment at all… Heaven knows there are plenty of opinions floating around out there in the social media world already! Who needs one more? 

My girls, that’s who. 

And that’s why I’m thankful for the Super Bowl Half-time show.

So, I will start with what I enjoyed about it. I think Shakira and Jennifer Lopez were great choices to perform in Miami. I understand they were chosen to represent the strong Latin-American population in that area, which makes perfect sense. They are both extremely talented dancers and singers, and their following is huge. It was a great choice!

  • I enjoyed the Latin-flavored dance segments, especially with the men. It was a nice throwback to traditional Latin culture; the music was upbeat and the moves were so fun!
  • Having two teenage daughters who spent many years in dance class and are currently involved in musical theatre, I have a great appreciation for these two women’s ability to dance. Man, can they move! I almost threw my back out just watching them!
  • Their voices are beautiful. Lip Syncing or not, they are both extremely talented singers. I wouldn’t have been able to breathe after about 20 seconds, let alone sing, so no judgement from me!
  • The set and projections were incredible. I barely even noticed things like lighting before I met my friend, Will (who is a lighting genius!), but this was impossible to miss. That stage was on fi-ya!
  • I loved hearing J-lo’s daughter and the other young girls sing. I am a sucker for a mother-daughter combo! And their dresses were beautiful.

Hopefully it’s clear at this point that I am not a racist, nor am I merely a party-pooper or a party-liner. At the same time, I am also not someone who was looking forward to a family-friendly event and ended up shocked by the risqué content. I did not initially watch it because I did not expect it to be family friendly. Which, of course, was the case. 

So why in the world am I thankful for the Half-Time Show?

Because it is a great opportunity to start a conversation on some difficult, yet extremely important, topics with our children. 

You see, while there were some beautiful and powerful elements to that half-time show, it is apparent (based on the social media storm) that they were very much diminished by the hyper-sexualized nature of the show.

The unique flavor of the culture and talented dancers were overshadowed by the pole dancing, crotch-grabbing, and twerking.

The beauty of theses amazing artists was shifted onto their disappearing wardrobe rather than their eyes and smile.

And any political statement they may have been trying to make vanished along with said wardrobe.

While their intent may have simply been to give everyone a good time, instead they communicated a much more powerful (and in my opinion, harmful) message to their national audience, and to young girls in particular… Especially all the young, Latino girls looking to them as role models.

Regardless of what they say, that message was not, “Women are strong! Women are powerful!”

Instead, the message was, “It doesn’t matter how strong, smart, beautiful, or talented you are; the best way to get attention and power as a woman is to show off your body and make people want you. Sexy is powerful!”

I cannot tell you how sad this makes my momma heart. 

It reminds me of two summers ago when we spent a week serving Hispanic immigrants with a small, rural mission church in North Carolina. The pastor told us one of the most difficult issues they faced in breaking the cycle of poverty in their community was the cultural view of teenage sexuality. Apparently, around the age of 14, the teen girls set their hearts on getting pregnant- that way, they could get married and find security in a family of their own. They didn’t realize those actions were trapping them all in extreme poverty with low-paying jobs and no education, among other things. They were simply following the example of those who had gone before them.  They heard the message loud and clear: “The best way to get attention and power is to show off your body and make people want you. Sexy is powerful!” 

Except when it isn’t.

I wish I could gather up every young girl in America, sit them in my living room, and convince them that they are more than the sum of their “parts”. It grieves me to watch so many young girls buying the lie that they have no value apart from their bodies!

Unfortunately, my living room is not that big, and my influence is even smaller. So here are the conversations I will continue having with my own daughters, praying they will impact others as they live out these truths:

  • You are more than the sum of your “parts”.  Who you are on the inside is vastly more important and lasting than who you are on the outside. (For years, Jeff has explained to them that most people will focus on their “frosting”- their looks, body, and talents, when what really matters is what’s on the inside- their “cake”) Girls, if your cake is amazing, people quickly look past your frosting!
  • Your worth and value are found in being loved by God and created for a purpose, not in what you look like or what others think of you. Resist the urge to sell yourself out to a lesser bidder.
  • Your power comes from standing in Truth and being a Light.  Showing off your body and looking “sexy” gains you attention, not power. Those are two very different things.
  • There is nothing wrong with wearing clothes and make-up that make you feel beautiful! But make-up and clothing should accentuate your beauty, not detract from it or draw attention elsewhere. You want people walking away thinking about your kindness, your smile, your laugh- not your body parts. 
  • If you want people to respect you, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of respect. This includes how you present yourself on Instagram and Tik-Tok (and apparently at the half-time show of the Super Bowl).
  • What you do impacts other people. You do not get to choose whether or not you influence people, only HOW you influence them. People will pay more attention to what you do than what you say, so choose your messages carefully. If you truly seek to follow Jesus and walk in His ways, you won’t have to worry about the message- it will take care of itself. 
  • You will get it wrong sometimes, and that’s okay! We all mess up. Mistakes are part of growing up; they are how we learn our best lessons. It’s how you respond to those mistakes that matters. Run to Jesus, no matter what, and know that we will always have your back.
  • You are loved! Completely, unconditionally, immeasurably more than you can think or imagine, by us and even more so by God. Nothing will ever change that! Read Romans 8:38-39.

Our 9 year old boy is still pretty clueless, but I was thankful to use this as an opportunity to also talk to our 11 year old son about one day choosing a girl for what’s on the inside, not the outside. His older sister promptly gave him this motto: “Unless you work in the Publix bakery, I don’t want to see your frosting!” Gotta love big sisters! In any case, don’t forget to talk to your boys as well!

Friends, these conversations are so very important. And they are much more impactful when applied to real life situations! It helps to have an example with skin on (or in this case, lots of skin, and stripper poles, too!) to bring these truths to life. Don’t miss this blessing in disguise!

And for that reason, I am thankful for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Six Ways Parenting is Like Math

I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “There is no way parenting is like math! There is no easy formula to follow, and no variables to plug in that equal a perfect child.” 

You’re right.

And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Parenting is hard! Math is hard! I get it!”

And you’re right, too.

So if you’re both right, then what in the world am I talking about? 

Just hear me out… 

One of the things I love best about homeschooling is watching the light bulb come on when something “clicks” for one of my kids. This phenomenon is not unique to homeschooling- all parents experience this with their children in different ways. Maybe you are helping them with homework, or teaching them how to shoot a basketball, or even teaching them how to talk when they are little. There is something special about that first time they say your name, make a basket, or solve the math problem. Their eyes get big, their face lights up, and something special passes between you. Success! It is an amazing moment to share.

But those moments are rare, like finding a single pearl hidden somewhere among an ocean of oysters. It takes hard work, perseverance, and is often overwhelming. And in my experience, they usually come about the time I have decided to give up.

I find parenting to work much the same way. There are moments when they get it, when the hard work of character training and spiritual investment align in some sort of magical moment, and we get to high five each other for a job well done. But if your house is anything like mine, before the party’s over, another issue or growth area pops up, waiting to be whacked, and the challenge begins again. Sometimes it’s even the same problem, the one we were just celebrating- apparently prematurely.  What’s a parent to do?

Which brings us back to math. I’ll be honest- I like math, I really do. It has a rhythm and a reason to it; it is logical. It’s like doing a puzzle; you keep the big picture in mind, but mostly you figure out how to fit things together piece by piece, until the picture finally appears. Sounds simple enough.

However, in teaching math to my children I have found it is not always that easy. Sometimes they don’t catch the rhythm, and often they can’t see the logic. So here are a few things I have learned that apply to both parenting and math:

1.  It takes more than one time to learn a lesson.

I’ll be honest; this one caught me completely off guard. I assumed once a child learned long division and experienced the “light bulb” moment, we could check the box, right? No. Apparently kids can completely understand something one moment and then forget everything they know three problems later. It’s a real thing- ask any teacher in your life. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson, even when you learn it well.

The same is true in parenting. “Obey the first time” is an ideal, not a reality. I mean, do you always obey God the very first time every single time? I certainly don’t!  Believe it or not, we will have to teach our kids patience and kindness more than once. We know hitting their brother or talking back is wrong every time, but in their mind, that lesson requires multiple applications to every possible situation before it sinks in. It is not personal against us or limited to only our child. It’s just like math; it takes more than one time to master a concept, which requires… practice and repetition.

2.  Practice and repetition are necessary  for mastery

The idea is that the more you repeat something, the easier it will become. In math, there are two parts to learning basic “facts,” such as addition and multiplication. One must both understand the concept (2 cookies plus 3 cookies equals 5 cookies) and memorize the equation (2+3=5). The first one takes practice, over and over, to truly understand the concept, applying it to different values. The second one requires repetition of the same equation, again and again, until the answer is instinctive. 

How does this idea translate to parenting? There are certain concepts our child will have to repeat over and over again, with a number of different variables, in order to truly grasp the character traits involved. There is no substitution for practicing; we simply must be patient and consistent and understand it is a process. There are other truths they simply need to hear repeated over and over again until they become instinctive. These truths are foundational to the building of their faith and character, just as math facts are foundational to algebra equations. Choose them carefully and repeat them often!

3.  Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t help

Let’s be honest- frustration is inevitable in both math and parenting. However, an angry, yelling parent is not any more effective than a child throwing his pencil in frustration.

One day several years ago, I was helping one of my daughters with her math. I was frustrated because she had “forgotten” a concept she already learned (see #1), and she was not responding well to my extremely calm, patient, loving instruction (in other words, she was being a sassy pants and I was reacting like a pre-teen girl). I said something like, “You would never treat a teacher this way, would you?” and she yelled back, “No, because a teacher would never treat me like you are!”

Ouch.  She was right.

So when you find yourself getting frustrated– in math or in parenting- the best thing to do is…

4.  Take a break and try a different approach 

Sometimes the best thing for everyone is a little break. Take a time-out, move on to a different subject, walk outside- whatever it takes to catch your breath and calm down. And then when you are ready, you can approach the problem again from a different angle. 

As the saying goes, if we do the same thing over and over again, we’re going to keep getting the same result. If something isn’t working, whether it is a math problem or a character issue, try something different.  

Once I quit focusing on how I wanted her to solve the problem and started thinking about how she was trying to solve the problem, I usually saw a new way to approach it. The same is true in our parenting. We can solve a multitude of problems by simply shifting our perspectives. 

5.  Go back to the basics

More often than not, when my kids are getting wrong answers in math, it is because they have forgotten their math facts (see #2). Those foundational truths have gotten rusty and are no longer instinctive, causing them to spend too long figuring out a problem or guessing at numbers. A quick review of the basics generally gets them back on track with minimal interference from me. 

The same is true with parenting. When our children were really little and we suddenly found ourselves with sleep issues or attitude problems, a friend suggested I simplify our schedule and focus on structure, consistency, and my own attitude- the basics. The issues almost always resolved within a few days. 

As they have gotten older, we shift our focus back to heart issues- character, prayer, time in the Word, honoring others over ourselves… all those things we spent so much time “repeating” when they were younger. Okay, and cleaning a toilet often helps, too!

6.  If all else fails, ask for help

Even with our best efforts, sometimes we don’t have what we need to figure it out. In math, that means reaching out to a teacher or a tutor- finding someone who can see things we can’t and who can provide outside perspective we are not able to see or give on our own. 

More than once as a parent, I have been at my wits end, having tried everything I knew to try (usually that was my problem- I was trying to fix something that was not within my power to fix! But that’s a whole different blog post!). Assuming you have already spent time in prayer, the best thing to do is get help. Reach out to a friend whose parenting you respect and admire. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or staff member at your church, or ask them to help you find a solid, Biblical counselor who can give you perspective on your situation. There is no shame in asking for help. People get tutors, hire personal trainers, and visit professionals in various fields all the time. Your children are your greatest investment on this earth. Seek help if you need it!

So… no, there is no formula to follow that will give you a perfect child. And yes, math can be really hard and so can parenting! Both are true. Therefore, instead of wasting time worrying about them, maybe we can learn something from one that will help us with the other, trusting that God will meet us in our efforts to draw their hearts towards Him. 

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Luke 12:31 (NLT)

The Gift of Hope

It is two days before Christmas. 

A stack of presents sits on the bed waiting to be wrapped. 

There is laundry to be done, food to prepare, and a half-dozen items still left unchecked on my to-do list. Yet, I find myself returning to the gifts. 

I have always loved opening gifts on Christmas morning. When I was a girl, I used to wake up in the early morning hours and sneak into the living room to peak at the gifts before everyone else woke up. Santa never wrapped the gifts he brought, so I would make a quick scan of the room, searching for that special something I had hoped for and making note of anything I thought my brothers might be excited about. Once I had taken assessment of the loot, I would sneak back to my bed and watch the minutes tick by, until it was finally time to get up. 

But it was more than the actual gifts I received; there was something magical about those pre-dawn expeditions to the Christmas tree. The twinkling lights cast a mystical glow over the room, and the packages all looked so beautiful piled one on top of another, each adorned with brightly colored ribbons or bows. I knew I would love the gifts inside, but there was something about the anticipation in those solitary moments that filled those boxes with something else…

Hope.

Soon enough I would find out if all my hinting, asking, and praying had paid off. But in that moment, the real gift was the hope of things to come. The hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

I look at these gifts lying on my bed and think about the hope contained in each one. I reach for a football for my little man, and with it I wrap the hope of neighborhood pick-up games and father-son bonding time. Next, there’s an Indoor S’more maker and some board games, each wrapped with layers of family time and the hope of many beautiful, lifelong memories. The socks and shirt for my hubby are enveloped in the hope of good health, resulting in many years of wearing. And the gift cards for our girls seem straight forward enough, but are also packaged with the hope of quality time and great conversations. 

Simple gifts, really, but each wrapped in the hope of so much more.

I think about that Christmas long ago, when Mary watched strangers bring gifts to her baby boy, pondering the mysteries they contained and treasuring those moments in her heart. How her heart must have soared when she opened the chest full of gold; a gift for royalty, stoking her hope in the angel’s promise, that her baby was going to be something more, a King like no other. The frankincense filled her with hope as well- a gift in recognition of the divine role Jesus would play in Israel’s restoration. Her baby really was the Messiah! Oh blessed hope!

But what of the gift of myrrh? Did Mary understand the hope contained in that meaningful gift? I imagine not. Myrrh was used for many things, the most common being an embalming oil. It seems a strange gift for a baby; but it was the perfect gift for a Savior! It was a foreshadowing of His journey to come, and confirmation to us all these years later that none of it was by accident. 

That baby was born so He could die for us. 

He was a simple gift, really, but wrapped in the hope of so much more. He was the hope of things to come, the hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

A Day in My "Mom Life"

“It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be a great day!” I mumble to myself, pulling back the covers and forcing myself out of bed. I really need to pee, but apparently so does the puppy, so I head downstairs first and wait by the door with my legs crossed while she does her business. Fifteen minutes later, when I should be enjoying my tea and Quiet time, I load my middle children into the family chariot and make my way to school. My oldest daughter, who usually drives everyone to school, doesn’t have any exams today, so she is snuggled up in her bed at home while I play carpool mom with the rest of the city. My darling children are so concerned with their dreaded exams that they jump out of the car without even a hug or a thank you.

There is no time for breakfast when I get home, because Sleeping Beauty and the youngest prince are apparently both still under the influence of Maleficent’s sleeping spell. With the puppy bounding behind me, I climb the tower stairs and fling open the curtains in both their rooms, spilling sunlight onto their pillows. A few well-placed licks from the puppy wakes them from their slumber, and I help them make their preparations for the day. Back downstairs, there is no time for tea either. Schoolwork awaits, as well as a sink full of dishes and 13 different milk-stained cups scattered across the counter. When the kitchen is clean and the schoolwork is completed, I have just enough time for a quick rinse in the shower (no time to wash hair- it isn’t Saturday, after all!) before leaving the house again.

Princess #2 has finished exams and requested a lunch date with her besties, so of course, I am happy to oblige. Baby brother tags along, and we settle in at a long table after placing our order. My sweet friend, Liz, (the besties’ mama) arrives while we are still eating, and I begin to get excited- I might just get a few moments of adult conversation! See, it is a good day!! But alas, just as we get started, baby brother invites my sweet friend to join him in a game of digital beer-pong, and who can resist those dimpled cheeks? Shrugging off my disappointment, I gather up our belongings and prepare for the rest of our day. 

The next few hours are a whirlwind of carpool pick ups and drop offs, snacks and dinner, jackets and shoes and scripts and basketballs. Finally, I drop the monkey boys off at basketball and head over to the Coffee Lodge for a few moments of quiet and leisurely Facebook scrolling. I can already taste the hot chocolate with extra whipped cream… until I notice that the doors are locked and the “Open” sign is the opposite of glowing. Ugh. Back to the smelly gym I go, empty-handed and heavy with resignation. I spend the next two hours trying to plan a Small Group lesson while entertaining each monkey while the other one practices. Finally they are done, and we hurry through the freezing rain to our car. 

Once home, it is more snacks, a second dinner, baths and prayers and tears and I need another blanket, until finally, FINALLY, the monkeys are in bed, and the sisters are not far behind. 

With an exhausted breath, I sit down to spend a few minutes to myself at the computer, when I remember the King is home from his trip and awaiting my company for our nightly TV viewing. The bell rings, and I have been summoned. 

With a little laugh, I roll my eyes and smile to myself. This is what I always dreamed of… a family to serve, a family to love. 

It’s been a good day.

The Investment of Listening: How to listen so teens will talk

“Mom, you just don’t understand! You’re not even listening to me!” she lamented as she stomped off, slamming her door.

This scene repeated itself countless times during our younger daughter’s pre-teen years (and still does on occasion). And she wasn’t wrong. I was hearing her words, but I was not really listening to what she was trying to communicate, probably because I was too focused on what I wanted her to understand instead. Thankfully, my husband is a rock star and filled in the gaps for us during those tumultuous years, always reminding us how much we loved each other and never letting us give up on trying to understand one another. He reminded me of a foundational truth in ministry and life:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

If you are like me, there are so many things we want our teens to know: lessons we’d rather them not learn the hard way (like we did), wisdom we have acquired through decades of walking with God, and just basic common sense that they may be lacking. Yet, so often when we try to impart this much needed wisdom to them, we are met with blank stares and deaf ears. Why? 

Because kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. 

So that begs the question: How do we let the teenagers in our lives know that we care about them?

There are many different ways to accomplish this, but for now we are going to focus on the investment of active listening. My 12th grade small group girls are currently learning about the 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman), and yesterday I asked them what it looks like to spend time with someone without it actually being “Quality Time.” 

One girl quickly replied, “Sitting next to each other, but with one or both of you on your phone the whole time.” Great example. 

“So, if quality time doesn’t just mean being in close proximity with someone, what does it actually look like? What is it about being with someone that makes you feel loved (or doesn’t)?” 

After a few minutes, they began to share words like “intentional,” and “uninterrupted.” They mentioned that what they do together (the activity) doesn’t matter as much as how they do it. They want to know that the other person is there because they really want to be with them and not just because they have nothing better to do.

When I asked for examples of when they had spent Quality Time with someone, I noticed something interesting. When they talked about ways they had shown love to others (especially their parents), they mentioned the activities- “It didn’t really matter to him that we were just throwing the football/making cookies/reading & studying/etc. I think he mostly liked that I was doing it with him.” But when they shared about someone investing quality time in them, they focused on the conversation instead of the activity. 

What can we learn from this? 

Our teens want someone to listen.

Digging a little deeper, they confirmed that not all “listening” is the same. As with my opening illustration with my daughter, someone can hear your words without hearing your heart. Here are some of the important things they shared about listening:

1. Eye Contact.  There is an obvious difference between when someone is looking in your eyes and when they are looking around the room or at their phone. When you are interested in something, it holds your attention. Our teens desperately want to know that what they are saying is more important than our latest notification.

2. Ask Questions.  “When someone asks questions about what I’m telling them, it shows they are really listening and engaged. Not only that, it makes me feel like they are actually interested and want to know more!” As the listener, asking questions can help us learn more about the person and situation. It can also help us clarify their emotions…

3. Sympathize/Empathize.  Teens want to know that we understand them, which means, more than anything, they want us to validate their feelings. “Wow, I can’t believe your coach did that! That must have made you so mad!” “She really said that? Ugh. I bet that really hurt your feelings!” Remember, there will be a time to share what we know, but first, we need to show how much we care! 

Full disclosure– I usually do this really well with my small group girls, but not so well with my own kids. I tend to rush right into imparting my wisdom and telling them how to fix it, usually pointing out their part in the problem as I go. Do not do this!! I am training myself to repeat “FOCUS ON HER FEELINGS, FOCUS ON HER FEELINGS” and let the rest of it go. For now. (Men, this advice is pretty applicable for the women in your life, too!) 

Also, while you want to validate their feelings, resist the urge to gossip or slander anyone. They have enough friends- they are talking to you as an adult. Our goal is to show them how much they are loved and point them to Jesus. We can empathize with their feelings without compromising our witness.

4. Ask and wait. Do they want a solution to their problem or do they just want someone to understand? Sometimes this is evident as you listen, but if not, just ask: “Do you have any idea how you want to respond? Is there anything I can do to help?” If they want your help, they will ask for it. If not, trust that your presence is enough. Those doors will open eventually, maybe when they are not so emotional, because they are learning they can trust you. Sometimes sharing a story of a time you went through something similar (and had a positive outcome or learned something important) can be helpful; just make sure you are not trying to make the conversation about you. Teens see through stuff like that in a heartbeat. We are the adults; we are there to support and encourage them, not to feed our own ego or make ourselves feel important. 

5.  Point them to Jesus.  When a teen opens up to an adult, they are expecting an adult’s response. Once we have done all the things mentioned above- focused attention, asked questions, empathized with them, and asked to help- then we can offer to pray with them. We might share some Scripture that applies to their circumstance or that will encourage them. This can be intimidating if you are not used to doing it, but you will likely be surprised at how receptive they are. And really, Jesus is the One who has the answers they are seeking. He is the One whose love and acceptance matters so much more than ours. The sooner they grasp that, the stronger their faith will be. We just get to be a conduit of His love and grace in their lives!

Finally, the thing I so often forget is that listening to teens in the little, insignificant things is what opens the door to them sharing the big things when the time comes. Learning to be excited about another episode of Fuller House or the latest cast list of a Broadway show or the play-by-play of the football game paves the way for the more significant conversations. If we are faithful with the little things, they learn to trust us with the bigger things. And the truth is, we learn so much about them in those little things- what is important to them, what makes them angry, what brings them joy. Knowing those things helps us truly care about them.

And once they know how much we care, they might just care about what (and WHO) we know.

How are your active listening skills with the teens in your life? Which of these areas are you strong in and which require some growth? Who made a difference in your life by taking the time to truly listen to you in your teen years?

Let’s be intentional this week about showing our teens how much we care by taking the time to really listen.

Teenagers: Our Greatest Investment

I have loved working with teenagers since, well, since I was a teenager myself! When I was a freshman in college, the speaker for our college Bible Study asked me one night if I would be willing to lead a weekly small group for 8th and 9th grade girls at his church. I remember thinking he was crazy… I was barely 18 at the time! But I loved Jesus so much that I said yes, and it turned out to be one of my most favorite experiences in college. They taught me way more than I taught them, that’s for sure! I had the privilege of walking with those girls for the next 4 years, and I am still in touch with most of them today. There is no greater joy than seeing how much they still love Jesus all these years later! 

Being a small group leader soon led to an intern position, which eventually led to a full time Youth Ministry position once I graduated. I will be honest… looking back, I realize I didn’t have a clue what I was doing half the time!

So I spent most of my time mirroring what I saw in the leaders around me.

I am eternally grateful that God gave me the most amazing adult leaders in high school who believed in me, loved me unconditionally, and showed me what it looked like to walk with Jesus. I had rock-solid Youth Ministers in my circles who answered all my questions and modeled servant-ministry as they led with passion and integrity. And most importantly, I just really, really loved Jesus and teenagers, and I believed God was going to work in their lives.

And I prayed.

A LOT.

He did work in their lives, too; sometimes through me, but more often in spite of me. I was simply given a front row seat to watch… It was the best job in the world!

I always wondered if I would “outgrow” my love for teenagers, but so far that hasn’t happened. How I relate to them has certainly changed; I have become a “bonus mom” now, instead of a cool college girl they look up to (okay, who am I kidding? “Cool” was never an adjective one would use to describe me- I was always a big dork! Nonetheless… you get the point)

 In addition to being mom to two beautiful, fun, smart, sassy, Jesus-loving teenage daughters (love you, girls!), I have also had the privilege of leading a small group of (now) Senior girls for the past 3 years. There are no words to describe how much I adore these girls or how grateful I am for the way they have begun to truly seek after Christ! My time with them each week really is a gift.  

As we get closer and closer to graduation, however, I find myself wondering if I have done a good job preparing them for this next phase of their lives.  When they are tempted, will they stand strong or will they fall? When they are lonely and uncertain, will they seek security in Jesus or the world? When they are searching for Truth, will they turn to their friends or to the Bible? Will they remember they are a treasure, and wait for the guys who treat them as such? Will they continue to seek the path God has for them, trusting Him to lead the way? These are the questions I am asking myself. And as a mom of a Senior girl, I question and pray even more.

Oh, how I pray they cling to Jesus! 

 Because I find teenagers so engaging, it makes me sad to hear the way so many parents talk about the teen years, as if they are something to dread.  Yes, they are hard, no doubt. But they are also wonderful and enlightening and soul-searching and fun! As parents, our roles begin to shift from directors (who are pretty much in charge of everything) to coaches and encouragers. I read one time that a good coach, after laying the ground work in practices and playbooks, puts his arm around his players and asks what they think they should do next. He may offer some perspective and insight that the players lack, but otherwise he begins to turn over the decision making process to the players while he steps into the role of encourager. Yes, sometimes they will fail. But oh, how exciting it is when they succeed!

I love this illustration! So I thought for my next few blog posts, I would share some of the important things God has taught me in my many years of serving teens, such as how to really listen, what teens need most from the adults in their lives, and how to pray for your teens. Please do not think for a moment that I have mastered any of these things! Most of them I have learned from consistently doing them wrong. And I will be the first to admit that I am much better at doing these things as a Small Group leader than I am as a parent, which my kids will be more than happy to confirm!  I see the two roles as serving different purposes, which often derails me, but the skill set required truly is (or should be) the same for both. 

So if you are a parent of a teenager, have kids who will eventually be teenagers, or maybe you teach or volunteer with teenagers, I hope you will follow this series.  

Our world needs teenagers who love Jesus and live their convictions.

In order for that to happen, our teenagers need adults who will step into their lives and show them how very much God loves them and what it looks like to walk with Him.

I am grateful for the adults who were willing to do that for me- God used them to change my life in ways they will never know. Jeff and I are beyond grateful for the adults who have stepped into the lives of our daughters, and how God continues to love and grow them through their investment. I pray He will use me in the same way! And I hope that some of the things He continues to teach me will help you make a difference in the lives of teenagers, too. If you have specific questions you would like to see addressed or want to share some insights you have gleaned while investing in teens, feel free to comment! Let’s commit together to letting God teach us how to truly love our teenagers.

Waiting for Hope

Hope.

That is the word God has been whispering to my heart this week.

It has been in my devotional readings everyday. It has popped up in several Facebook posts. It was the theme running through our College Midweek service. It was even written in glowing Christmas lights on my neighbor’s yard when I drove home last night! (I’m not kidding…talk about a sign!)

It is the first week of Advent in the Christian calendar, and the focus for this week is hope. As I think back on the beginning of the Christmas story, I am reminded that God’s people had been waiting for what must have seemed like forever for the promised Messiah to appear. Hundreds of years, nearly a thousand, had gone by since the prophets proclaimed God’s message of the One who was to come. Their land had been torn apart by savages, their government overthrown, their people scattered among the nations. So much time had gone by that the stories of old were just that… ancient stories, passed down through generations, of a time long before when God had favored their people. But it was clear that God had changed His mind and turned His back.

Their great-great-great-great (you get it) grandparents had let Him down one too many times, trading long-term loyalty for a fast-food faith, and they were left living the repercussions. Sure, even in the midst of their betrayal, the Father had promised the Messiah, the One who would change everything. How they longed for Him to come!

But that was a long time ago…

Perhaps they forgot what it was like to hope.

*******

 Jeff and I were married for 5 years before we had our oldest daughter, Sarah. We spent three of those years trying to have a baby. At first, we waited pretty patiently, trusting in God’s timing and continuing on with life as usual. After awhile, though, we knew something wasn’t right. We read all the articles, counted the days on the calendar, met with the doctors, ran all the tests. It was in God’s hands, we knew; still, our hearts broke a little with every negative test result. At the same time, it seemed like every other young couple in our little church plant chose that moment to start having babies. I remember buying hooded bath towels and lavender bath wash, smiling through all the baby showers and joking about not drinking the water, only to hide my tears in the bathroom where no one could see.  The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years.

I remember what it was like to long for someone I wasn’t sure would ever come. 

I, too, almost forgot how to hope.

*******

But then one day, out of the blue, when everyone was just going about their business as usual, an angel appeared to a teenage girl, and the message he delivered breathed HOPE back into the world once again! God had heard His people and He would no longer turn away. It was time. There would be a baby!

Wait, a baby? 

Yes. That baby changed everything.

*******

Our baby changed everything too. I was so in shock when the test was positive, I ran straight to Jeff’s study and handed him the pee stick.  No cute t-shirt or video announcement for us! No, we just sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor and cried at God’s faithfulness. We were so busy having faith that we hadn’t even realized we had lost hope, until suddenly our hearts were flooded with it once again! I think I took at least 4 more tests after that just to be sure! It’s amazing what a little hope can do. God could have chosen to answer our prayer in a different way, and that would have been okay, truly. Our hope came in the form of two lines on a stick that day, but ultimately our hope came in the promise fulfilled all those years ago, when Love chose to put on skin and dwell among us. Emmanuel. God was with us! We were not alone. That is our hope

And so, as we begin this season of Advent, I want to remember what it was like to wait so long that I almost lost hope, to be afraid to be expectant after so much disappointment. I have been there. Some of you are still there, I know.

“But we cannot lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

We must remember God’s unfailing faithfulness…

A Promise made.

A Baby given.

A Savior sent.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,

for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Let us remember… and hope. 

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” –Romans 15:4

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13