Memorial Day: Embracing the Freedom to Remember

It’s Memorial Day. 

For most of us, that means a day off of work, yummy food on the grill, and quality time with family, preferably near water of some sort- a pool, a lake, or an ocean.

I wonder how many people actually pause the celebrations in order to reflect and remember?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but growing up in an Air Force family gave me a much larger worldview than many people have. While I didn’t enjoy uprooting from my friends every other year to move to yet another “home,” there are many aspects of the military life I am grateful for today. One of the many virtues my “brat-life” gave me is an appreciation of freedom.

We often hear it said, “Freedom isn’t free,” and it’s true. But even after 9-11, I’m not sure most of us really grasp the dangers constantly lurking in the shadows, and the efforts required to keep them at bay.

Freedom looks different when you live on a military base overseas where cars are routinely checked for explosives and “bomb threat drills” are commonplace at school. 

Freedom looks different when a family member is gone for months at a time (or more), missing milestones and everyday life, while stepping into harm’s way on a daily basis for the benefit of others. 

Freedom looks different when those family members finally come home, but they are different, changed. The price they pay continues through their emotional isolation, struggling marriages, and continual nightmares. 

And freedom looks different when someone’s parent, brother, sister, or friend doesn’t make it home at all. When they pay the ultimate price.

Friends, freedom definitely comes at a high cost. What makes it even more valuable is those who are paying that price have chosen to do so. We live in a country with a voluntary military (as opposed to mandatory required service), so these men and women willingly sign up to defend us and protect our nation’s ideals, both here and around the world. They do so knowing what is expected of them and what possible outcomes lie ahead. But they believe in freedom, protection, and liberty enough to answer the call.

Theirs is a call of courage, of commitment, of sacrifice. 

Over the past few months, we have been reminded just how many freedoms we enjoy daily that we often take for granted. Education, employment, and entertainment, to name a few… so many things that many people in the world will never have access to.  The loss of those things has been felt tremendously in recent days. Perhaps now we have a greater understanding and appreciation of our freedom.

So today, as we enjoy the many liberties we so often take for granted in this great nation, let’s take a few minutes to remember those who sacrificed so much to ensure these freedoms. Let’s treasure these moments with our families, and remember those who have an empty seat at their table today. 

And let’s try to live in a manner worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.

“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:13

When Life Gives You More Than You Bargained For

Have you ever gotten something you’ve hoped for, something you’ve wanted for a long time, only to realize it’s a lot more than you bargained for?

Well, my husband recently bought some chickens.

SIXTEEN CHICKENS, to be exact.

Actually, he didn’t really buy the chickens; his company bought some property and the chickens came along with it.

Did I mention there are 16 chickens?!!

Now, I’m not going to lie… I was super excited. I have wanted chickens for YEARS and now my dream was finally coming true! Do you have any idea how many eggs our family goes through in a week? I transitioned to buying the “5 dozen Eggs” box from Costco about a year ago when my boys learned how to cook eggs by themselves. Having our own chickens seems like the perfect solution!

But there’s a problem.

Our neighborhood covenants do not allow us to have chickens. Oh, and the property where the chickens currently reside? It’s two hours south, on the other side of Atlanta from our home. 

Yeah, that might be a challenge. 

Sometimes something we really want ends up being a bit more than we bargained for.

When I was a senior in college, I got a car- a used Chevy Cavalier. It was silver and beautiful and all mine! I was so excited. And while it got me where I needed to go, we soon discovered there was a tiny hole in the oil tank which required me to refill it with oil every month or so, or I would ruin the engine. 

Growing up, I always dreamed of marrying my handsome “prince” and living happily ever after, only to get married and find out marriage is actually more about denying yourself and doing everything in your power to make the other person happy.

It took us several years to have a baby, and after all the longing, I couldn’t wait to hold a little one in my arms. We were so happy when the Lord blessed us with Sarah! But it didn’t take long to realize that gaining a new addition also involved loooooong days, sleepless nights, and changing and sacrificing so much of how I was used to living my life.

The first house we bought had four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and I was in love with the yellow walls and the Berber carpet. We budgeted for new furniture, only to watch all the extras add up- rugs, shower curtains, appliances, a lawn mower… not to mention all the unexpected expenses when something broke down or needed replacing. It was a rude awakening!

I could keep going, but you get the point. 

So often the things we long for bring with them way more than what we bargained for. 

In 1 Samuel Chapter 8, the nation of Israel tells Samuel they are longing to be led by a king, just like all the nations around them. God orders Samuel to “warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (v. 9) Samuel tries to explain to them that while they want a king to lead them in battle, it will bring a whole lot more than what they are expecting

But the people insist, so the Lord answers, “Listen to them and give them a king.” 

The Israelites end up with King Saul, who, though he starts off as the king they so desired, eventually disobeys the Lord, goes mad from jealousy of David, and loses the favor of God. He ends up being way more than they bargained for, and not in a good way.

Fast forward many years and the Israelites are longing for a Messiah. As in previous times, they are expecting one who will defend their cause and lead them in battle, making them the envy of the nations around them. 

Instead, they get Jesus.

He did not lead them in battle or make them the envy of the nations around them. Instead, He led them in love. He forgave their sins. He laid down His life for them- not in battle, but on the cross, ushering in a new covenant with a promise of eternity.

In Jesus, they got way more than what they bargained for.

But in the best way.

“The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect.” –Jim Elliot

Are you longing for something and growing weary of waiting? Or are you in the midst of something and finding it more than you bargained for? Maybe you got that new job, but didn’t expect it to be so hard/easy or boring/challenging. Maybe you wanted more time with your family, but didn’t realize how much patience it would require. Maybe, like Peter, you are stepping out in faith towards a dream and feeling overwhelmed by the size of the waves and the force of the wind. 

In times like these, I find myself asking if what I’m pursuing is truly God’s will or simply my own selfish desires. When I’m honest, the answer usually comes pretty quickly. 

And if I am pursuing the Lord’s will, then I must believe that whatever comes with it, even the hard stuff, is “good, acceptable, and perfect,” and will “work together for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 12:2, 8:28) If it’s not God’s will, I need to find a way to let it go.

Now, back to the chickens…

Eli bonding with his favorite chicken, “Tina”

We are still determining what to do with them. Is it God’s will for us to keep them? Time will tell. They definitely came with some challenges!

But they also came with eggs...

A little more than we bargained for!

Somewhere In Between

I went for a walk the other night, right at dusk. It was still light outside when I left my house. The air was warm and the sky was a beautiful, bright blue. As I neared the halfway point, the sun was dropping behind the trees, shining through in glimpses of pink and gold. By the time I returned home, it was not yet dark outside, but the sky was shadowed. It lingered in that place of twilight- no longer day, but not yet night…. somewhere in between.

That is where I find myself today as I write, and where I imagine many of you find yourselves as well.

After a month of social distancing and sheltering in place, the doors are slowly beginning to open and we are all holding our breath.

How is this stepping forward supposed to go? Do we fling open the gates and rush out, arms open wide like Maria in the Sound of Music? Or do we approach it with caution- cracking the door open just a smidge and peeking out, trying to catch a glimpse of what’s out there waiting for us?

To be honest, I am somewhere in between.

I have embraced this time with my family, because I know how fleeting time is and how much I will miss these days. I am grateful for this pause, for this time at home together, especially before our oldest daughter goes off to college. Sure, I have a few regrets, things I wish we had done differently, but overall it has been a gift- one we have opened every day. 

Still, I miss my freedom, and I miss my friends. As much as I love my family, a lunch date with my girlfriends has never sounded so good!  The chance to laugh, to catch up, to just be together- that would be a gift, too. 

And yet, it seems like it’s all happening so fast; a little too much, too soon, maybe. Our communities seem so fragile, as though a gust of wind (or a huff and a puff) might just blow the whole house down. 

And then what?

So if I’m honest, I’m feeling a little grateful, a little excited, and a little scared, all at the same time.

That sounds about right for the in between.

I find myself looking back at our life before the Coronavirus pushed the pause button. With a family of six, it’s bound to be busy, but it was too busy. I filled my time with a lot of good things, but over the past few weeks I have realized some of those good things have been crowding out some of the best things. When the restrictions are lifted and the busy-bus revs back to life, there are things I’m looking forward to, but there are also several things I need to let go of, even if it’s hard. 

I find myself listening now, in this space in between. Listening to my heart, to my family, and to the Lord. As I experienced on my walk the other night, there is a shifting taking place in my soul. One season is ending, and a new one is beginning. I am on the edge right now of something new God is doing; He is turning my gaze away from the past and out towards the future. I have used this time, this in between, to dig into His Word and listen for His voice. “Behold, I make all things new!” He declares. I am ready.

And I find myself looking forward to whatever lies ahead. Like the Israelites overlooking the Promised Land or the disciples eating breakfast on the beach with the risen Christ, I can’t help wondering what comes next. I don’t know exactly where He is leading, but I know He will lead me and that’s enough. I choose obedience.

 What about you, friend? Do you also find yourself somewhere in between? 

Let me encourage you to:

LOOK BACK… What should you hold onto and what should you let go of?

LISTEN NOW… What haven’t you missed from the daily rush, and what are you most grateful for in this pause? What is God whispering to your heart?

LOOK FORWARD… What are your next steps? Where do you go from here?

If you let Him, Jesus will meet you somewhere in between.

Palm Sunday Reflections

Where was I as You entered the city?

Was I walking near You 

while the people shouted Your name?

Was I leading the donkey 

or walking beside You,

Feeling important

because those who had gathered

finally knew who You really were?

This was what we’d been waiting for!

“Hail King Jesus, Son of David!”

Or was I in the crowd

among those who were cheering,

Swept up in the excitement,

the emotion of the day?

I think He’s the one…” we whispered,

laying our cloaks down before You,

recalling the rumors, the stories, the hope…

Hosanna! Hosanna! 

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

We waved our branches and sang Your praise,

and then…

went on our way.

Or perhaps I was standing apart from the crowd,

wearing my robe of importance,

hiding my envy beneath a veil of self righteousness

Unwilling to bow and quick to accuse.

Teacher, rebuke them!” 

I said condescendingly,

threatened by how Your humble sovereignty

revealed my arrogant soul.

You looked at me and laughed, 

knowing nothing could silence Creation’s praise 

in the Presence of the Creator!

Lord, if I’m honest, I see myself in each of them:

The sincere, yet self-seeking, destined to flee disciple

The self-serving, easily swayed crowd

The self-righteous, “better than thou” Pharisee…

Oh, forgive me, Jesus!

Rid me of all these “selves”

which might hinder me 

from recognizing, revering, and remaining with You.

Make me willing to lay down my life

and take up my cross

to follow You.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” -Matthew 16:24 (NIV)

Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part 3): Crafting Your Teen Technology Contract

CONGRATULATIONS!! If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a milkshake or something! The posts in this series have been quite a bit longer than I usually write, but the information on this topic is just so important, I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it. So thanks for sticking with me! Hopefully, you have found it helpful.

If you are just joining us, this is the last in a three part series on Parenting Teens in a Virtual World. Click HERE to read Part 1 and HERE to read Part 2. This post will make a lot more sense once you have all that information!

Today we’re going to talk about what to include in a teen technology contract. But first, I want to give you three reasons WHY creating and signing a technology contract with your teen is so important. 

  1. First, it makes your family expectations clear up front. It’s hard to argue with something you signed.
  • Second, it makes the consequences clear so they don’t have to be negotiated in the heat of the battle. 
  • And third, it gives you and your teen some accountability to help you both stick to your guidelines.

So now that we all agree on why we want a technology contract, where do we start? 

If you have used the first two parts of this series as conversation starters with your teens, you should have a pretty good idea by now of which boundaries are important to you and what guidelines you want to set in place. 

Just to recap, here are a few things for you to consider:

  • Time limits
  • Privacy settings
  • Approval before making new accounts
  • Parent phone checks and sharing passwords
  • A family charging station
  •  “Turn in/Off-line” times
  • What they may not view or post (bullying, profanity, porn, pics of others without permission)
  • What they may view and post (“Anything your mom, nana, and pastor would approve of”)
  • Social Media breaks (both scheduled and spontaneous)
  • Technology-free zones (ie. No tech in bedrooms, Face-time only in family rooms, etc)
  • What to do when you receive unkind, unwanted, or inappropriate messages
  • Video game restrictions- ratings, content, private chats, time limits
  • Deleting texts, screenshots, etc.

CONSIDER YOUR FAMILY VALUES

Your guidelines should be based on your family values. For instance, our girls are not allowed to post a photo of themselves in a swimsuit unless they clear it with us first. Obviously, this is not a rule most families have, but we feel very strongly about teaching our girls to see themselves as more than just the sum of their “parts,” and this is one of the ways we enforce that value. They also agree to only Face-time with boys in family spaces and not in their bedrooms, which we hope will help them learn to set boundaries in their relationships. You certainly don’t need to copy our guidelines! But I encourage you to create a contract that enforces the values you have spent so many years investing in your kids.

KNOW YOUR TEEN

Know which areas will pose the greatest temptation to your teen and which dangers put them most at risk. Use your contract to provide some accountability and protection for them. Take your responsibilities as their parent to heart; set your boundaries and guidelines accordingly and commit to enforcing them so they know they can count on you. 

DISCUSS APPROPRIATE CONSEQUENCES

No matter how awesome your teen is, there is a good possibility they will break the contract at some point. Don’t freak out- just expect it… and then if they don’t, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! In the meantime, discuss appropriate consequences for various guidelines and include them in your contract. That way, when it comes up, the consequence is easier (okay, less difficult) to enforce because they already agreed to it.

REEVALUATE THE CONTRACT OVER TIME

As your kids get older, they will have either proven themselves trustworthy or untrustworthy. Either case will likely require some adapting of your contract. If they consistently represent themselves well, treat others kindly, and maintain healthy time (and place) restrictions, you may want to honor them by changing or being more flexible with some of your guidelines. Likewise, if they are continually disregarding time limits or other boundaries, you may need to revise the contract with clearer expectations or more effective consequences.  Whatever you do, don’t be like us… we have gradually relaxed our boundaries without ever revisiting our contract and are now finding it difficult to enforce anything because we don’t remember what the contract says!

***ADDRESS PORNOGRAPHY

If you have not talked with your teen (guy or girl) about pornography, do not put a device in their hands until you do. I cannot emphasize this enough!! Your kids WILL see things, hear things, stumble across things, and likely even search for things at some point. It is not a question of IF but WHEN. And once they see it, it will call to them- forbidden things usually do. 

Once you’ve covered the basics and opened the door to conversation, here’s the bottom line you want to communicate: Don’t view it and tell someone if you do. This is super important!!  Bad things grow in the dark… your teen needs to feel safe bringing it into the light. They need to know they will NOT get in trouble if they tell you, it is normal to be curious (even about same gender), and they will likely be tempted to do it again. They will need an accountability partner and you want it to be you, or someone you trust.

I love how Scarymommy.com addresses it in her teen contract: 

“I agree not to view pornography. I understand that sex is a wonderful and healthy part of an adult life, but that pornography is a different thing than sex, and not healthy for a young person (NOTE: I would delete the phrase ‘for a young person’). I understand that I cannot control the images I see once I start looking at a pornography page or video, and those images will never leave my brain, and that can be harmful to my emotional and spiritual health. I agree that if I accidentally stumble across pornography or a friend shows it to me, I will stop watching (NOTE: I would add ‘and tell one of my parents’). I understand that pornography is a complicated reality and that many of the young women and men in the videos that pop up online are hurting and being treated badly. It’s natural to be curious” (but I agree to do what I know is right instead of what I feel like doing.)

Just FYI, I stopped there because she goes on to say that they can make their own choice about viewing pornography when they are a young adult, and I strongly advise against including that. After more than 25 years in ministry of various kinds, Jeff and I have seen way too many lives and marriages damaged and destroyed by pornography addictions. I do not believe it is healthy, respectful, or beneficial to anyone, male or female, young or old. It is harmful to those who are involved in making it, those who watch it, and those in relationships with them.

Moving on, here are some sample contracts to give you ideas:

SAMPLE CONTRACTS:

A Cell Phone Agreement for the Christian Teen

This one by yourmomhasablog.com really focuses on the teen’s heart and relationship with Christ. I love how she includes Scripture to go along with each of the guidelines, and that she calls it an “agreement” versus a contract. Whatever you decide, it is wise to have each point start with “I agree…”

My Teen’s Social Media Contract

The pornography quote from above comes from this contract by scary mommy.com ; it covers a lot of important areas, but has a less spiritual perspective.

A Social Media Contract for Teens and Parents

This contract by Jennifer O’Donnell with verywellfamily.com includes a portion of the contract for parents to agree to and sign, which is fantastic!

Family Media Agreement

This contract by commonsensemedia.org is more generic, but also covers some areas that aren’t mentioned in the others.

Hopefully, this will help you develop your own contract or agreement with your teen and enable you to better navigate this journey into the digital world with them. There is some scary stuff out there, but we don’t have to be afraid! As I mentioned in part two, our best weapon against the enemy is prayer. 

Social media and technology offer a great opportunity for our teens to grow in the areas of kindness, respect, purity, character, integrity, forgiveness, and boldness, among other things. Let’s agree to walk this journey with them- prayerfully, consistently, and with wisdom- and trust the Lord to direct their paths. 

**If this series has been helpful to you or created good conversations in your family, will you please share that with me, either in the comments or in a private message? I’d love to hear about it! Thanks for stopping by!

Ode to the Science Fair

It is the year 2020. The coronavirus has taken over the world.

School is cancelled. Church is cancelled. Birthday parties and weddings and doctor appointments- all cancelled.

You know what isn’t cancelled?

Science Fair Projects.

Yep, some of you are out there scrounging for toilet paper, but not us! No, the Heath Fam is over here scrounging up construction paper and taping together poster board. While you are loading your cart with chicken breasts and Clorox wipes, ours is filled with an assortment of baby foods, citrus fruits, jellybeans, spinach leaves, and baking soda. 

Did you send your husband to the hardware store to buy materials for all the home improvement projects you plan to do while you’re under quarantine? Awesome! I sent mine there, too- to purchase three varieties of light bulbs in order to simulate the process of photosynthesis on the above mentioned spinach leaves. 

And you want to make masks for the doctors and nurses at your local hospital? I love that idea! Bless you. Hey, when you stop by JoAnn’s to pick up your fabric, would you mind grabbing me some markers and tape and a bandana we can use for a blindfold? (The display board is worth 30 points after all!)

Oh, I saw that sweet video you posted of your daughter’s sidewalk art and your son’s new song! Did he really teach himself to play the guitar in 3 days from a YouTube video? What a gift to have enough free time to be creative. 

We have actually spent a lot of free time being creative around here, too! It only took us two hours to design an “easel” that could hold the appropriate sized tri-fold board in proper view of the computer for a Zoom presentation. The lighting was a little trickier, but hey- what a great opportunity to learn a new life skill! And on top of that, I have a whole slew of innovative new words to describe my feelings about the Science Fair! But I probably shouldn’t share those here…

So, friends, you go ahead and enjoy binge-watching on Netflix and making creative meals out of your freezer. Be sure to practice “social distancing” with your neighbors and enjoy the great outdoors. Get take-out from a local restaurant and plan a family game night; make the most of this time, for sure! 

Don’t mind us. 

We’ll just be over here working on our Science Fair Projects.

********************

(Now, y’all don’t go hating on our teachers or our school… we love them and really do understand their decision to continue on with the Science Fair projects! I just personally happen to HATE the Science Fair, and couldn’t miss the opportunity to seize the irony that out of all the things that have been cancelled, THIS could not be one of them! LOL! Oh well, such is life. We are finished, actually; and we have had plenty of time for family game nights and baking cookies along the way, I promise!)

Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part One): 8 Things to Do Before You Give Your Teen Access to Social Media

A sweet friend recently asked me for some advice about how to introduce her 16 year old daughter to the world of social media. Yes, you read that right- her daughter is 16 and does not have social media. Obviously, I should be asking my friend for parenting advice!

But it got me thinking about things we’ve done both right and wrong when it comes to technology use in our family. I am going to break this topic into three different blog posts since there is so much information to cover. In this first one, I will share eight things we did before we ever gave our teens access to social media. Consider this the foundation that everything else is built on. The second post will cover how to navigate the various issues that come along with social media (click here to read Part 2), and the last post will be about things to include in your social media contract (click here for Part 3).

Jeff and I spent countless hours reading articles and talking to friends with older children before our teens ever entered the virtual world. We took our responsibility as parents seriously- and that is where I think we need to start when discussing this topic.

YOU are the parent.

You ARE the parent.

You are the PARENT!

Whichever word you want to emphasize, the fact remains that you are the parent and it is your responsibility to guide and protect your teen through the virtual world. Surely you would not drop them off in a strip joint or at a club with a bunch of strange adults and assume they could handle themselves. (If you would, you can stop reading now because you are not going to like anything I have to say!

That sounds ludicrous to most of us, and yet those are some of dangers- among many- that await our teens in the virtual world. If we pretend they don’t exist, we are putting our head in the sand and our teenagers in danger. This is not an area in which we can afford to shirk responsibility. If your teen wants social media, please, PLEASE commit to being involved, setting limits, watching things you don’t want to watch, keeping communication open, and saying no when necessary. Your teen needs you, even if they won’t admit it. Your role is so important!

Also, I should be honest with you. If it were up to me, our kids would never have gotten phones or texting or social media. Ever. Between the danger and drama and addiction, I would have been happy to pick us all up and move to the Amish country. Fortunately for our kids, Jeff is way cooler than I am, and he was able to convince me that technology- and social media- are likely going to be a part of their lives forever. 

“We have a choice,” he told me. “We can deny them access now and risk them sneaking it behind our backs or having to figure it out on their own in a college atmosphere, or we can choose to navigate this road alongside them, allowing them to make their mistakes with us by their side to guide them, and if necessary, protect them.”

Yeah, I married a good man. I think I’ll keep him.

So anyway, here are eight things we recommend you do BEFORE you give your teen access to social media:

1. WAIT until they are 13… and then wait a little longer.

This is by far the number one suggestion experienced parents give, and many older teens actually agree- delay it as long as you can! Almost all social media platforms require users to be at least thirteen to set up an account, and there are reasons for this. The virtual world has the potential to expose your child to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges that require great maturity, integrity, and self-control. The older they are when they face these challenges, the less at risk they will be and the more likely they will be to avoid them altogether. 

One friend shared that, of her three children, “the one who waited the longest (before getting social media) is the one with the least amount of social anxiety.” This, by far, is the best thing you can do to protect your teen.  Care about them enough to say NO and wait until they are really ready for what they are getting into.

2. Look at their TIME.  

Since our girls were among the last of their friends to get access to social media, one of the best things we did was talk about how they saw it impacting those around them. Social media seems so glamorous from the outside, and it is easy to feel excluded, like they are the only one who doesn’t have it (validate those feelings; they are very real!). However, if your teen looks a little closer, they will notice how much TIME their friends spend on their phones and how quickly they stop actually talking to one another. Staring at a screen together is not the same as experiencing LIFE together. Use this time before your teen is on social media to help them notice what others are missing out on.

One of my 12th grade small group girls gave up social media over six months ago as part of a challenge by our student pastor. She shared with me that it was surprisingly freeing to let it go- she was less stressed, happier, and suddenly found herself with a lot of free time. The hardest part was actually being around her friends because even when they were all together, she often had no one to talk to since they were all on their phones. It’s ironic that the thing they desperately want in order to connect with friends often keeps them from doing just that.

This probably is not going to stop your teen from becoming attached to his screen, but it might delay it and make it easier for you to step in and reestablish boundaries when he gets out of control. After all, it is always easier to see things in other people than it is to recognize them in ourselves. Having this conversation now will give you something to refer back to down the road.

3. Find out their WHY. 

Talk with them about why they want social media. What are they hoping to get out of it? How do they see themselves using it? What are their expectations and fears? What boundaries do they think are reasonable and important and why? Having this conversation will help you both better understand what areas may create temptations and where to set boundaries. 

As a parent, pay careful attention to their why. The biggest lie of social media is that our worth is connected to what other people think of us. We must constantly, continually, lovingly remind our kids that they are more than the sum of their parts or the sum of their “likes.” Their worth lies in their identity as a child of God and nowhere else. Our teens WILL get sucked into this trap without even realizing it. It is up to us to stand guard, watching for the enemy’s lies, whispering (and sometimes shouting) Truth to our kids. Their “why” helps us know where their insecurities are so we can help guard against them.

4. Show them the Dangers. 

One of the most impactful things we did was to spend 15-20 minutes on several different occasions showing them how easy it is for strangers (and future employers, etc) to gain information about us through social media.                   

  • I started with a “friend” who had private settings, and we scrolled through her posts, pointing out information she was unknowingly giving- where she works, where her kids go to school (based on a sign in the background or a logo on their shirt), what time she picked them up (from the time stamp on a carpool post), what restaurants she liked to eat at (from “locations” or a photo), what her hobbies are, etc. I made a list of what we had learned in 5 minutes and we talked about how easy it is to accidentally give away information we are trying intentionally not to post. 
  • Next, I clicked on a “friend of a friend” (who I didn’t know) and showed them how different privacy settings either allowed or restricted me, as a stranger, access to their information. I chose someone with public settings and we made a list of how much information I was able to gather in 5 minutes just from what they were posting. It was pretty eye opening for all of us! 
  • We also used this as a tool to show how what you post can lead to certain impressions of yourself and why it’s important to be careful. I pulled up profiles of different people they don’t know and asked them to tell me how they perceived them based on the photos they posted. I intentionally picked some of my friends who post selfies of workout pics or suggestive poses so they could see what it really looks like when they don’t actually know the person (I found this didn’t work as well with their friends- they were quick to defend them and see it as attractive and trendy rather than desperate). We looked at photos of married friends who post as though they are single and talked about what impression they are giving off. We looked at teens who shared “emotional” or “rebellious” posts and discussed how that made them a target for predators. 
  • We looked at posts from some of our high school and college-age friends who were using profanity, complaining about a job or teacher, or sharing “funny” (but offensive) memes. We discussed how that might hurt someone’s feelings or affect them being offered a scholarship or a job one day when someone checks their social media to help determine their character. Sure, they were just posting for their “friends,” but what were their posts really conveying? A picture paints a thousand words…
  • If you have Snapchat, it’s great to show them how you can take a screenshot of a “snap” before it disappears, making it no longer “temporary.” If they already have a phone, select an embarrassing photo or scroll through their private texts and screenshot something “personal” they sent (or use yourself as an example), and show them how nothing they send is ever really private or personal. This is a great way to help them see why it is so important not to post or send anything they don’t want the whole world to see. They will forget this lesson (don’t we all?), but it still lays a good foundation.
  • It is also important to address the issue of porn, which unfortunately is prevalent and easily accessible through social media. It will only take you about five minutes using the “Search” tool on Instagram to get an eyeful of things you can’t un-see (and it’s likely some of their friends will post inappropriate things as well). We’ll address this more in the next post, but it must be included here, especially if you have a boy. I don’t recommend actually showing them images, as that just invites temptation. But don’t avoid the topic, either. They need to know they likely WILL encounter it and what to do when that happens, as well as specific ways they can limit their exposure.
  • As I mentioned, we did this on a few different occasions and it definitely made a greater impact than any lectures we gave them about being safe and cautious online. 

5. Talk about HOW.  

What will social media look like in your family? How do they want to represent themselves? How can they use their “voice” for good? How can they avoid attracting unwanted attention? How should they handle it if they receive an inappropriate message or a friend posts something that makes them concerned? How can they keep themselves from growing attached to their phone or drawing their worth from their followers? How can they know when they need to step back?

6. Work on Communication. 

Actually, all of these ideas lay the foundation for great communication! Doing this before they get social media will help you be able to better guide and protect them as they navigate this new virtual world. Be intentional about keeping this communication open- which may mean watching a bunch of stupid videos or making a fool of yourself doing tik-tok videos with them- but it is well worth it! Whatever it takes to keep the lines of communication open, just do it! This is your most valuable tool.

7. Discuss Guidelines and Boundaries. 

Be specific. It is important for your teen to understand that the guidelines and boundaries you put in place are for their good and because you love them. Hopefully you have some of these same boundaries in place for yourself- that will make it a little less painful! In any case, it is extremely important to have boundaries set in place before they begin using social media.  You will use these guidelines to form the basis of your social media/technology contract. We will cover this and suggestions for the contract in the third part of this blog series.

8. Sign a contract. 

Have them sign a contract and be part of choosing the consequences (in advance) if they break their word. There should also be expectations for you- what you agree to do to keep them safe, how you agree to not overreact if they come to you for help, etc. The contract is not an attempt to control them or punish them; it is created for their protection and benefit. It should be signed by both of you and kept somewhere where you both can see it (we put it in a file, and I find myself not enforcing things because I can’t remember what the contract said!).

Hopefully this gives you some things to start thinking about. Feel free to share any other ideas in the comments!

Ready for the next step? Click here for Part 2: Guidelines for Staying Safe, Steady, and Sane On-line!

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.