A crown of righteousness

Many students have left an impression on me but recently I thought of Kathryn, a girl with weekly-changing hair color, piercings and a sullen look that challenged anyone from getting too close. Could I give her a ride? Sure! When she muttered something about how annoyed I must be with teens like her, I was quick to say that nothing could be farther from the truth. “I love teenagers!” Her look said she didn’t believe me. I assured her: it’s true. I think they’re the most fun, exciting and interesting people around.
“No one likes us,” she muttered.
“Ha! Not so. I do.” I hoped my sincerity came through. My young friend left my van a little perplexed but hopefully more affirmed than when she got in.
I feel blessed to see teenagers differently. I see their potential as future adults; as kids with caring hearts, desirous of being themselves but also wanting relationships with accepting adults (though they’re often loath to let adults know that). God has created my heart to be drawn to them. Most of the time, when people learn that I’ve spent my entire adult career working with teens and love it more with each year, they are completely befuddled. It’s usually because they remember their own teen years fraught with heartache and confusion; a time where one foot is in adulthood while the other still resides in childhood.

As a former teen, I remember what it’s like to have a teen’s energy and stamina but also what it feels like to be young and foolish. I’m not young anymore but I have a clear perspective of those incidences that showed me in a less than flattering light in my youth. I keenly remember feeling embarrassed or ashamed or confused after a flub; sometimes getting yelled at, sometimes just feeling the sting of silence. Mostly, I puzzled things out on my own because as a Christian young lady, I “should have known better”; however, I was still a kid and needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me how to correct myself, make things right and then to soak in forgiveness and restoration.
As a mom of three kids, I’ve witnessed their own navigation of their teen years and cherished those times when a trusted adult loves them in their awkwardness or embarrassment. If you’re working, ministering or living with teens, you will have myriad opportunities to love them after a mistake.
I recently had a front row seat to a situation that brought this all to mind. As you could guess, it involved a young person and foolishness. Teens are not yet adept at interacting with people and they’re bound to hurt others – usually unintentionally. And so this girl did. She hurt others by her actions and felt terrible about it. Eventually, by the grace of God, things smoothed out but what a lesson for her! In this case, she made a mistake, was forgiven and then restored. Throughout this experience, what was loud and clear is that we’re not princesses born wearing a crown.

Because of what Jesus did, we’ve earned a crown of righteousness, but in our humanity, we forget and behave otherwise. We make mistakes; we offend; we frustrate. That’s to be expected. But those of us who’ve lived through our years of doing the same have a huge responsibility: to remind the younger person that the crown is there, they just have to live up to it.
It’s not just teenagers. Sometimes we all just need someone to hold that crown aloft for us to want to stand up high enough for it to rest on our head. The best, most wise people hold it a few inches above us and when they do, almost everyone will rise up to it.
I’m not always going to get it right, but I want to be the one who holds the crown over a teen’s precious head. I want to inspire them to be better and to forgive them when they’re not. After having so many students through the years, the most special to me are the ones who tell me years later that I did that for them. They don’t use those words, but it’s more like, “I knew other adults were annoyed by me or saw me as trouble. You seemed to like me.” Hey kid – I did. You’re amazing, fun, spunky…and full of potential. And I can see that crown hovering over your head. It was a little askew sometimes, but that’s okay. In His mercy, God let me adjust it every once in awhile. Now, go do that for someone else.

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7 reasons I love being a mom

It was my turn soon.  All the other mothers were saying such sweet things, exactly what you might expect.  What was I going to say?  Not what anyone expected – or even what I expected, but there it was.

When my youngest was 6 months old, I went to a new Bible study at a church other than my own.  It being my first one, I didn’t know exactly what to expect other than learning more about the Word and enjoying fellowship with other women.  After singing and prayer,  a smaller group of moms gathered in a large room ready to get to know each other.   Sitting in a big circle, we were asked to share why we loved being mothers.

What do I like about being a mother? A deep breath.  (Please don’t think this is weird…) 1 “I like to touch them.”  No one said a thing.  I explained.  “I love to comb their hair, give them hugs, tote them around on my hip, hoist them when they reach up their arms and say, “Up!”, rub their backs as they fall asleep on my shoulder…”  I didn’t need any other examples.  The women supplied them.  Suddenly everyone was nodding their heads and saying how they loved tucking them in bed at night, wiping their tears, putting on band-aids.  Touch is a beautiful gift and I’ve told my children often how important it is to be held and hugged and touched.  Not everyone is ‘touchy’, but children need it, and as a mom, it was a pleasure to hold them every chance I got.

2.  Watching them become who they are meant to be.  We can nurture and introduce but they find their niche and we parents get to revel in their exploration of sports or music or theater as was the case in our house.  Having a variety of interests is healthy and I’m doubly pleased when a good friend or mentor introduces them to a new passion and another layer of interest is added.  Sweet indeed.

3.  They make me laugh.  Their baby books are full of hilarious comments (one child at prayer time, “Dear Lord, I’m nervous about tomorrow but I guess I’ll serve you in the storm.”) but the laughs don’t end with their preschool years.  Two of my kids are feisty while funny and the other is so dry!  All sharp minds, it’s funny what they pick up on, how they twist it for a laugh and how light-hearted they make a home.

4.  I get to teach them.  Thankfully, I had two of my kids as students in class but I also teach them skills in the home and with people.  All began chores at the age of 6, they all do laundry and dishes and a few can cook a little bit.  They’ve learned to listen, to sympathize, to try to walk in another’s shoes.  They’ve helped their family with their time, sweat and sometimes money.  I’ll be oh so proud if they’re giving adults.

5.  They teach me.  I hate to admit it but I can sometimes feel sorry for myself.  Usually it’s when my extroverted self is thwarted from doing something that will stimulate me.  My extroverted oldest son once had a group of “friends” go out of their way to exclude him, make it obvious to him and then ditch him quite rudely.  All this on his 16th birthday – a Friday night no less.  If anyone could have felt sorry for himself, he could have, but he didn’t.  We didn’t know about the backdrop to his evening for many months but his attitude and behavior that night was astounding.  He was gracious, patient….everything I wouldn’t have been were I in his shoes at his age.  That example has stuck with me and I try to emulate him.

6.  They’re gracious with my limitations.  Everyone knows that no one is perfect but sometimes we moms would like to be for the sake our kids.  But, like everyone else, I have limitations.  I can’t tell you how many times my kids said, “It’s okay, mom,”  when I apologized for behavior that wasn’t up to par.  Each time, they hugged me, ‘let it go’ and moved on.  I wish I could be everything to them, but then I’d miss out on the grace they freely give me.

7.  It’s a supreme honor.  I look at these children and wonder, ‘how blessed am I that I get to be their mother?!?’  Growing up, I never expected to marry or have kids but I’m so thankful that God had something else in mind for me.  It’s a huge responsibility and one I haven’t taken lightly, ever.  But they make this life so much more joyful.  They encourage me and stimulate me and fill my heart with more goodness than I thought possible.  Thanks, guys.  You and your dad are life’s greatest gifts.

Are devices keeping our teens from reading?

A year ago I was happily plodding along on the treadmill at the gym.  I was doing what I always do – reading – while trudging along at level 4.  That’s grandma pace – don’t judge.  I switched the book back and forth while holding onto the rail but then had to lean it against the touch screen so it was straight ahead of me.  Before I knew it, I was running!!  I jumped off and saw that the touch screen had crept up to 14.  That’s full-sweat, sprinting-up-a-mountain fast.  If you know me, you know I don’t run, but I was — because the book was so good!! I was so completely engrossed that I didn’t even notice  how my legs became independent of my awareness.*

Is that kind of absorption an anomaly?  Would I have done that if I were a teenager?  Actually, I’d be more likely to be on my phone.  Anywhere you see a teen with time to kill, you’ll see them staring intently at their handheld devices.  If they’re not sending or receiving a text, they’re looking at apps, playing games or checking a status.  And it’s not just teens; adults are guilty here, too. Here’s a concern: teens have much to learn yet, like how to read body language and voice inflections, how to think and respond to a conversation, how to engage a real live human.  These are important skills, people!

A whopping 78% of teens have cellphones.  The Washington Post reports that teens spend an incredible 7 1/2 hours a day consuming media.  That’s mind-boggling!!!  After school and sleep and family time, when do kids read?  Additionally, articles have been written about the lost art of patience or how few of us allow ourselves to be still and have nothing to do for a moment without panicking (I’m at a stoplight….I can’t just sit here!! Where’s my phone?)  Following that lead, some adults bemoan that teens will know nothing of being quiet, reflective or patient.  Maybe….but does that define all teens?

While teaching at ZLO (Zacchaeus Learning Opportunities in Whatcom County) this year, I had reason to not worry too much about the demise of our kids at the hands of devices.  What you have to know is that I’m very passionate about books.  When I read a book I love,  I must tell someone about it!  Who better than my eager students?  So, knowing I had some real readers in one class in particular, I gushed about a novel I devoured in two nights.  I handed the book over to a girl who grabbed it before the jealous others and went on with class.  Two days later – two. days. – the book was returned.  She loved it as much as I had and read it just as fast.  This was great news to the other girls who had it on hold at the library and couldn’t get it fast enough.  Sure enough, two others read it in two nights as well.

This didn’t strike me as unusual because I knew the quality of these girls.  (For the record, the boys in this group are just as zealous about books) However, I sometimes forget that more and more kids choose a game or app over a book.  I understand the allure, but personally, I get bored with those.  I want to go away.  I want to meet new people.  I want to see how others react to situations I know little about.  Basically, I want to learn in the most pleasing way I know – through reading.

Thankfully,  I’m not alone.  Reading isn’t just for older people!  Teen fiction has been exploding and if you push aside the vampire and teen lust titles, you’re going to find some fine reading….books so good you’ll be completely engrossed.  Sure, there are books that leave me with a ‘meh’ but I ditch it and grab another.  There’s always another good one waiting to be discovered.  And if you find a great book – tell a teen!  They might be willing to put down their phone and tear through it in a night or two.

* the book was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Moms know best

It was too quiet.  Usually her pencil flew across the page, eager to write with me.  Today, however, was different.  She sat morosely, sniffing, pencil frozen.  I tried my hand at light-heartedness -silence; I showed her my poem in progress – silence; I nudged her with an idea – silence.  15 minutes later, the situation hadn’t improved.  Time to text mom: “Please come now.”  We waited under a heavy blanket of awkwardness.  All smiles, mom came in and daughter burst into tears.  She didn’t want to do poetry and listed the reasons why it was too much to surmount.  Wise and patient, I was privileged to watch this mom calm her daughter, listen to her, empathize with her and then to tell her that she WAS going to do it.  I was surprised, but pleasantly so.  Willing to forgo a lesson that was pushing too many buttons, I set it aside as this mom insisted that her daughter push through her fears and uncomfortable perceptions and work harder.  I was impressed.

So often, I see how we parents are too quick to give our kids a pass on something that the child deems too hard.  In actuality, it is my firm belief that our kids are much stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for.  This mom knew that.  Happily, she’s not the only one.  A few years ago, Terri knew that her son needed one-on-one instruction.  She was right.  Schooled that way, he blossomed and covered two year’s content in one year (and the next and the next).  Pam knew that her son needed a boost, someone to encourage him and hold him accountable.  Laura knew that after a year of single instruction, her son needed a peer group.  Bethany knew that though her son felt he couldn’t work at a certain level, she put him where he’d be challenged and now he’s so proud of the work he is capable of doing.

These moms knew best!  What I value about them is that they know their children.  They know when to push and when to back off; when to wait and when to nudge.  Allowing your child to make some of their educational decisions is considerate; but making the tough ones for them based on what is seen in them is wise.

My own son is a little smarty-pants and a fantastic reader (I burst with pride) but he won’t sign up for a challenge.  So, I created one for him.  It was as simple as handing him a fat book with a “Here.  Read this.  I give you a month.”  His eyes gaped at Roots – the most obese book on our shelves.  Other adults, feeling sorry for this kid’s poor predicament, lamented that even they, great readers that they are, hadn’t read that book.  I toyed with the idea of letting him off the hook, especially since it was paired with his lack of verve.  But I remembered these moms I admire and kept the expectation that he would finish it.  Wouldn’t you know it?  He did.  And now I hear him referencing it proudly.  And as for my student who cried over writing poetry?  She dug deep and found that not only could she do it, but she did it so well that her peers admired her for her skill.

My kids aren’t old enough quite yet to realize how their mom has them figured out.  True, they surprise me sometimes, but I want to be the first one to say “You can do this.”  Sometimes we need to give them the mercy of bowing out of something, but more often then not, when all that seemed too hard is said and done, when they’ve listened to their moms, they’ll see that mom was right.

Meet Chuck

Two weeks ago I sat across from a 17 year old guy who slouched in his desk, waiting for my writing lesson.  He listened politely enough but when asked to write a sentence, he said matter-of-factly, “I can’t.”  The others filled me in:  he always says that. They didn’t encourage or expect him to do anything.   Unoffended, he confirmed that, in his own words, he “can’t do much.”  With a shrug, he looked at me blandly as I stared at him, incredulously.  Can this kid be serious?  I perceived no attitude, no defiance… just a simple statement of fact – from his point of view, that is.  Apparently, from the reaction of his peers, everyone just took his inability as the way it is.  Ha! Challenge accepted, kid.

I wish I could have introduced him to Chuck.  In case you didn’t know, Chuck Close is a world famous artist and I stumbled upon his work this week.  I was drawn to his concept of only using faces as his subjects but as I read more, I was more and more impressed; not with his work as much as with him.  His book tells of his growing up as an artist which is quite predictable, I guess, but what grabbed me is that this man graduated from high school not being able to add, subtract or multiply.  To say he had learning challenges is an understatement.  Yet, he graduated from three colleges, the last being Yale.

After finding much success with his art, marrying and raising daughters, he suffered a medical emergency which left him a quadriplegic.  Many would find it reasonable that his art career would be over but not this guy.  His assistants Velcro the brushes to his hands and he’s fashioned special chairs and lifts so he can work on his super-large paintings.  Impressed yet?  I am!  So I think back to this kid who told me he can’t write a simple sentence.  He was perfectly healthy and academically capable but his attitude was awful.  Actually, I’ve seen lots and lots of negative attitude but this guy was indifferent, which some would say is worse.

I’m happy to report that at the end of our time together, this young man found some inspiration and wrote two pages for me.  I ribbed him before I left, “Couldn’t even write a sentence, huh?  Look at you now.”  He seemed pleased and not a little surprised.  I hope that’s all it took to shake him from his complacency and realize that he has so much more ability that he thought he did.  I hope even more that he finds himself meeting people who let him know just how capable he is.  Even if he were to lose the use of all his limbs, he is STILL able to do so much.  After all, look at Chuck!

Temporary idiocy

Since I spend the majority of my time with teenagers, I sometimes get the honor of being a friend, too.  And when they get hurt, I offer my love through a listening ear.  Recently, a few of these dear people have unburdened their hearts with stories that leave me sad but thankfully, not confused.  Here’s how it goes:

As adults, we know that it doesn’t take long on this planet before someone’s going to hurt us.  Well, these friends of mine were hurt so badly and couldn’t understand why the people who they previously thought were friends were behaving so, well, unfriendly!  In one case, they were unrepentantly snubbed with merely a shrug and in another, were the scapegoat for someone else’s sins.  People on the periphery did nothing to help, just left them stranded in cold water.

In talking to them, one observation made us mildly cheered and that is that most people are just temporary idiots.  The periphery people, especially teenagers, are basically good, solid kids.  Their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the right thing, but when friends’ relationships sour, the folks on the fringe don’t know what to do.  So, they end up doing nothing, which can hurt in its covertness as much as the original hurt in its overtness. Saying nothing is sometimes the wisest route, but other times, saying nothing hurts terribly. This is where temporary idiocy comes in. Their silence or hurtful actions are hopefully temporary.  Usually when the dust settles, they can see they were in error in stranding their friend.  The true friend will tell them that later.

I know this because I had a friend do something similar to me.  She had distanced herself with giant bounds because she guessed I wouldn’t like a decision she made.  I had no idea why she was so cool, but I gave her space and didn’t freak out.  Almost a year later, she called me and shared that she had changed course and now wanted to talk.  It was one of the best talks ever because I could honestly tell her that ignoring me didn’t help either of us.  She had assumed incorrectly.  I was completely indifferent about her decision so her fears were ungrounded but just having her say she was a temporary idiot made me admire and love her more.

In a recent movie, I heard this wonderful line: The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.  Isn’t that true?  Our hearts and minds get entangled so easily, but our heads have hope!  When we give each other some time, and talk openly, we can confess that we all mess up.  With time, we come around.  May we all have the grace to give to each other generously through warm hearts and listening ears.

My dear child…please learn this as soon as possible

Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if things went how you imagine them?  In your ideal world, every dog would be friendly, everyone would want to be your friend and dinner would always be chicken – served up hot and exactly when you want it.  The fridge would always have your favorites and you’d never spill on your best shirt right before leaving for school.  Sigh.  Let’s muse on that for a moment.  Done now?  Good.  I have something to tell you.

Here’s a little secret you need to know:  you will be inconvenienced.  It’s true.  Know how I know that?  Because it happens all the time.  Lately, you seem to buck more than usual at it but it’s quite important that I help you lean into it now.  Not that you pout when you don’t get your way.  Thankfully, you’ve never been like that; but you’re the more subtle type.  You like to propose something different; something more to your liking.  I get it. That’s not so terrible.  But sometimes, being inconvenienced is just unavoidable.

We adults have become inured.  When something goes smoothly, we celebrate and offer up a thanks; when they don’t, we’re not terribly surprised.  Kids, on the other hand, gripe and snort a little more.  So I thought I’d give you a heads-up.  The truth is, you’ll be inconvenienced a lot. That roommate in college might be tough to live with; the baby you adore won’t sleep as much as you’d like her to (I know this in advance because she has your genetic make-up), you and your girlfriend will cross communication wires sometimes.  The movie will be sold out, the cookies will flop and someone will need a ride at the worst time.  It happens. What I care about is what happens with you when it happens.

See, sometimes when life throws you a curve ball, it’s a great opportunity.  At the moment, it doesn’t feel good and you are tempted to go another way, maybe a grumpy way, but choosing a peaceful stance is wise.  Let things ride.  Don’t freak out.  Look for another option.   I only know this because I’ve tried the freak-out way.  It doesn’t get you anywhere. I’ve also tried the ‘Okay, Lord, what do you have for me in this?’ way and it’s always better.

So when I was up at night, walking the floor with you, your smile made it worth it.  When you had to take another bus home, you made a 2nd grader’s day.  Someone gave us a rain check and we had a blast hanging out with someone who needed a place to go.  Were we initially inconvenienced?  Yes, but the alternatives were equally lovely.  So, dear child, don’t set your mind too firmly on your first plan….there might be something even better right around the corner.