Teen hack: the power of ice cream and 4 simple words to say to students

I learned this leader/parent hack from Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute in a seminar at the Orange conference this month. I put it into immediate good use with Confirmation students. One smart, smart boy was having trouble finishing his faith statement—he was all about God as his father, but Jesus seemed to be an issue.

I learned from his parents he had nTX8aeETBquestions, especially about how faith and science fit together, and he was willing to meet with me.

When we met after school over ice cream, I asked him about his beliefs about Jesus. He looked incredibly uncomfortable, wishing to have his braces tightened instead of this impending interrogation.

I covered the orthodox biblical basics about Jesus as the Son of God, fully human and fully God: Jesus was present at Creation and he then came to earth as a baby, lived a sinless life for us, died for us on the cross, and rose again for us. “Sound familiar?”

Even though this student couldn’t articulate all that himself without prompting, (especially between bites of a grasshopper sundae), he surprised me and said, “Yeah I believe all that. It’s what I have been taught all my life. No problem.”yckg7pB7i“Okay, so rather than guess, why don’t you tell me what your questions are?”

“Well I want to know about creation. How did it happen? I know someone who believes, ‘Pop! People appeared right out of thin air. Created. Bam. Not me. How did Creation happen?”

As life-long believer and 15-year family minister, as Rev. Dr. Green, M.Div., D.Min, I do have plenty of answers ready to pull out of my back pocket. But instead, I “powelled” it and started with “I don’t know, but we can maybe figure it out together.”

He visibly relaxed. I followed up, “Anyone who tells you they know how Creation actually happened for sure is lying.” He actually laughed, “Yeah.” Now I had him. In conversation.

“You know the Bible isn’t a science or history text book, right? So it doesn’t try to tell us exactly how it happened but that God created us and created us good, in His image. We can look up the verses in a minute. Did you know there are two creation stories in the Bible? How do you think it happened?”

He talked for a minute about the Big Bang, “I’m not exactly sure how it worked either. But that makes me feel better that I don’t have to know exactly or believe only one thing exactly to have faith in God and Jesus and be confirmed. And to keep going to Church.”

I thought to myself, “Ahhh. So that’s what’s at stake.”

I agreed aloud with him, “Yep, I don’t know either. I’m not a scientist. But I do know it does take faith to believe in God’s creating us AND it takes faith to believe in a scientist’s hypothesis, because none of us knows for sure. Faith and science can go together, can help us figure it out. And science definitely helps us appreciate the wonders of creation as they are always making new discoveries about life and new forms of life.”

“Like in the ocean! I know.! I always watch Animal Planet. And the History channel.”

“History? Oh, you wrote in your faith statement you want to be an archeologist, right? LiKkXoGXTDid you know they are discovering new finds about the stories in the Bible like the Exodus? It turns out maybe they were looking in the wrong place and the wrong time period and that’s why they didn’t find much evidence before now.”

“Cool. I’d like to know more about that. I have lots of questions about the Bible, too. But that’s okay, right?”

“Yep. You have a smart brain and are sort of a philosopher I think, so you might really get this. I think of faith this way: we bring all we know of ourselves to all we know of God at this time. And those are both gonna be changing as we grow.”

“Yep. I like that.

“What do you think? Does that help you? Are you ready to confess your faith in Jesus publicly and join the church?

“Yep. And I might help with VBS too.”

Ahh. The power of ice cream and 4 simple words, “I don’t know but…” Why do those words work? Kara says they give permission to ask questions and to doubt, which kids will do anyway. They chase away silence.

How?

“I don’t know, but…”

 

 

 

Mosquitos, surfboards, and imaginary grandkids—how our fights move with us from house to house

Our first marital fight lasted five minutes and was about the television. Does the watcher turn it off when another enters a room, to focus on them—or does the intruder keep quiet to respect the watcher? We unwittingly moved this fight straight into our new apartment from our childhood living rooms.

John Gottman says marital disagreements remain the same throughout a marriage. If a couple came into his love lab as newlyweds and again at year ten, they’d be talking over the same conflicts. So if we are married to our spouses and our issues, we’d better make peace with them both. See if you recognize your issues in ours, amplified, perhaps, by our impending change—move number eight.

Our last fight took place during three whirlwind days and was about which house to purchase in IL. Our kind realtor Eric witnessed how it played out and who won. I’m not sure when he caught on to the battle being waged (maybe sooner than we did!), but he was patient and unafraid to add light-hearted moments in the midst of our competing visions. Three days straight with strangers looking at 22 houses within 13.6 square miles can’t be easy.palatine We three share this in common: we all love Jesus, we parent high-schoolers, we have a history of Young Life zaniness, and we like to tease my brother Troy, so we enjoy an instant bond. We talk about faith, work and family. Eric tells us what his mentor used to say, “God doesn’t waste his gifts. And sometimes you’ve gotta get out of God’s way.”

Since Palatine is a subdivision suburb, at least four of those houses are one model and three are another, in various states of repair. Our wish list: two-car garage (yes, ranked first for guess who) with three beds, two baths, and a family room or finished basement.  As we walk into the first house, Ken heads straight for  garage and basement, noting storage for skis and surfboard. I’m wandering the kitchen and living room looking for bright, white paint and lots of light. Eric is bouncing between us, sizing us up, part counselor and part salesman.

67,000 people have successfully moved to Palatine before us, so we know it can be done. Even so, after morning one, we are in despair and in need of caffeine.  Is our price point too low? We regroup in a local coffee shop to rework our plan. Next three houses, bingo—hope rekindled! I find what I am looking for—a sunny, small home with a screened, sun porch to boot.  Next house, Ken does a happy dance over a cathedral-ceiling. When we tour an 80’s colonial, I surprise us all, snapping at Ken, “Nope, don’t like it—too big. Or buy it and hire a house cleaner and lawn service—or clean it yourself. Time for practical choices.”  And clearly, time for lunch. Next,  Ken finds his heart’s delight—perhaps double the size of my earlier dream house— vividly painted, large rooms, with a big garage, yard, family room—and did I mention, space?  Eric looks at me, “Well, you apparently like this one, because you’re not complaining that it’s too big.”

“No, but Ken does, so I think I can, too. And I’m finally catching on that he doesn’t like ordinary, cookie-cutter homes.” Ah hah!  We begin to realize our unspoken, competing visions, as they pop out in the open:

I am picturing us 5 years from now as empty-nesters in a cozy, easily-managed home with little yard that is affordable. I work at a church primed for growth and Ken golfs obsessively (which, yes, I will be learning), so we don’t waste any spare time on upkeep. And we’ve miraculously eliminated all Ken’s junk… I mean, we’ve whittled the pile down to his most valuable stuff. (Oh yes, that’s a fight we’ve moved from house to house. Eight times. And will keep moving until our BIG move to heaven!)

Ken, as a retirement consultant, is picturing us 15 years from now in a larger home, with our children and families visiting. Our four, future grandkids with their dimples and lanky frames need a sprawling backyard and a basement to play in (and bonus—that means plenty of room to store his 3+ sets of golf clubs and surfboard.)

Back in the car, Eric tries to find common ground and figure out how to help us, “I can see you both like screened porches.”

”Yes, we do. Screened porches rule!  God created the world good, with screened porches. Screened porches just might be the key to our happy, mosquito-free future.”

Last stop at 7pm: a way-overpriced, remodeled ranch on the north end of town, with some access issues. We walk into the open-format house and Ken instantly loves it, grinning from ear to ear at the 70’s-relic, double-sided fireplace and step-down living room. Eric and I are confused, “What is this room supposed to be? And why, oh why did they put in a football-field of speckled-gray marble flooring?”

The kitchen is beautiful, the rooms light, but the outdoor fireplace makes me think of Hansel and Gretel.  Ken gets punchy and babbles about mansard roofs and crawl spaces as we tour the huge, creamsicle-orange basement, “Carly’s favorite paint color!” I’m shaking my head. By now Eric’s clearly done with us, but says patiently and hopefully, “Maybe you’ll need to sleep on this one and see if you agree tomorrow.” I pronounce confidently, “No. This is not my house.  Let’s go. I will win this battle.” (Ooh, did I actually say that aloud?)

Keep in mind; I lose every debate we have as Ken out talks me every time. I lost at rock paper scissors for the first seven yearrock-paper-scissorss of our marriage; I clutched and always threw scissors. We even chose our wedding china that way! On the day I finally realized it, Ken laughed and teased, “Yep, it’s been working great for me. Epic winning streak!
Wondered when you’d catch on. For a smart girl you’re kinda dumb sometimes.” But Ken has learned in 23 years and a sudden move to Philly, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Next day we tour and retour. Show my fav and Ken’s to Kari and my brother Troy, the former appraiser turned counselor. The top contenders couldn’t be more different, matching our competing visions for our futures. Much to Eric’s amusement, Troy asks therapisty questions like, “How do you feel in this space?”

“Depressed— it’s too dark.””Exposed—too much traffic.”“Well, I’m worried about the massive, lawn-and-garden care required.”I’m worried about the postage-stamp, soggy yard at the other place.”So Ken lets go of his fav, the spacious, dark house with the big yard on a busy corner and I let go of my fav, the cozy house with the sun porch.

Long story long. We make a low-ball offer on the over-priced, cathedral-ceiling house the next day, and then I get cold feet. (Did I mention the German rathskeller in the basement complete with bar from 1960. Retro-cool for about two weeks of ownership, then just an odd monstrosity. ) When they won’t even counter, we take another spin through three houses before catching our plane. Fewer laughs this time around. No perfect solutions ever in life. We are well past the point where winning or losing is an option if we want to go forward. We sign and leave a blank offer sheet for Eric to hang onto for us. We ask one another, “If we had to buy a house today, which one would it be?”

Fast forward two weeks. The clock is ticking off 30 days ‘till closing on the “not-my -house,” remodeled ranch with the orange basement. What?  How does that happen? Hansel and Gretel aside, when we dash through again en route to the airport, it grows on me. Ken imagines aloud future family gatherings and Young Life clubs meeting in the living room. He’s compelling. He pictures furniture placement and yep, we still disagree, “No, dude, the burgundy couch definitely goes up here, not the brown one.”  Eric laughs, “Did you just call him ‘dude?’” While Ken checks out the garage one more time, I sit in the living room and pray, “God, might we live here? Can we minister to our family and others in this weird, but lovable space? Will you please make that happen within our budget?” Yes. It seems possible to all of us.

13925207_10210216583431137_1031538823670118409_n

Gay and Bruce Bailey

Eric asks what I think of the house and I tell him, “My mentor Gayolin Bailey used to tell me, ‘We have to eat all of our words before we die.’ All the ‘nevers’ have to go away, to become ‘maybes’ or even ‘yeses.”   I may be willing to eat my words to live in this crazy house.”

Wiseman Eric just nods and smiles, “It’s a good house. The sellers are still asking way too much. But it is empty… when you make your offer is when we’ll learn a lot about how this will go, how desperate the sellers are.”

Yep. When we lay down our need to win or lose, when we drop the weapons, when we make our offers of loving compromise to each other in marriage, that is when we also learn. When we are willing to eat our words.  When we stop playing rock paper scissors and listen to each other. When our “nevers” become “maybes.” I guess then our competing futures don’t have to compete after all. We get out of God’s way to teach the other and ourselves something new.

We’ll see if Troy and Kari and Eric and Susie will do us the honor of being our first guests.  “Bring your teens and s’mores and make your way up here for a BBQ. Oh and bring your mosquito repellent. Maybe leave a trail of breadcrumbs to mark your way.  We’ll test out that outdoor fireplace and orange basement—and our common vision of God’s good plan for our family’s future.”

Not Your Ordinary, Average, Little Villians

Three surprisingly strange messages are worth passing on to your kids:

Message one: God made us extraordinarily ordinary. Our neighborhoods sound like Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Our kids have a tough time competing with the illusion or expectation of exceptionalism. They may not be picked for the team or surrounded by friends in the lunchroom. They will fail the final, let in the crucial goal, flub the well-rehearsed audition, bump the curb in the driver’s test—again, and panic in the clutch. On the surface (or on facebook), others may look like they have it all together or–at least got accepted to their first-choice college.Our kids will face disappointment and failure daily.

  • Fail. Rinse. Repeat. Failure is not optional. They will face it. Hopefully, not alone. We parents are designed to coach and encourage, not only to protect. To stand them on their toddling-feet again.To hold the wobbly, two-wheeler firm and then let go.DSC_3242.jpg

To help them fix the fender dent out of their own savings. To listen, to hug, and wipe away tears—at any age. To affirm character growth more than achievement.

Yes, they will have great moments of brilliance when they score 100 percent, sink the perfect shot, rake leaves for the widow next door, hit it out of the ballpark, give a kickin’ performance, win the girl’s heart. Followed by failure again.

  • Our acceptance and God’s. By our acceptance of and constant care for our kids through failure, we show that we are made by our Creator to live–not on the mountaintop–but in the plains, or even in the dark valley. We are not alone there. If there’s one lesson that’s clear in a Bible crammed with oddballs, screw-ups, and dysfunctional families, it’s that God meets us in our failures more often than our triumphs. We pay better attention when we are not at high altitude. In the valley, we need God’s help and we ask for it, we beg for it. We discover God’s love anew, sometimes in and through others acting in ordinary ways.

After all, isn’t this the message of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us, God born in a manger, God living here on earth? God made us ordinary and God meets us right here in our ordinary moments

Message two: God’s grace knows no bounds for his beloved children. Our grace does. As parents, as we seek to love our children compassionately, we need to be “wise as serpents, gentle as doves.” I love what Kara Powell writes: “the odds are great that your child will ‘cross the line,’ or for some of our kids, catapult over the line.” Parents hold kids accountable for their choices and actions. We attempt to deliver relevant, immediate consequences. We try to do it without anger, but, let’s face it, we’re not all that good at it. God is. Sometimes we surprise them with a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” a penalty-free do-over, undeserved gracebandit-clipart-western_036.gif bigger than the moment requires.

If the little villians “name it and claim it,” apologize, take responsibility, and ask for forgiveness, yes, we forgive…but we shouldn’t necessarily forget. Don’t be a pushover. Our job as parents is to create and hold safe boundaries for our kids in a world without guardrails.

If we wish to form our children’s identities in Christ as beloved, forgiven sinners who are responsible citizens of God’s great big world, we can’t forget they bear each of these names: beloved, forgiven sinners.

  • Beloved. How can we best pass on God’s great-big-no-matter-what-love and surround our kids with a community of faith that adopts, values and encourages them, too? Love happens in little and in big moments every day. Be all in. Love your kids and others’ kids. As the apostle Paul exhorts, “Love wholeheartedly.”
  • Forgiven. God forgives and forgets. We work to forgive. To keep current, with short list of issues. To clear the air frequently, especially when they “don’t want to talk about it.” But we can’t forget—yet. Maybe after the college years. (“So, mom, remember that mysterious mailbox problem back in 1985?”) Truth doesn’t always come out completely at first…or ever. We need to be on the lookout for underlying, heart issues so we can point and guide kids back to reality, directly to the God who forgives. That’s because kids are also…
  • Sinners. Kids are notoriously sneaky, fallen beings. That said, we try to assume the best until we find reason not to hope. Meanwhile, we keep our eyes and ears wide open, whether they are toddlers, stuck in the “nos” and testing out their newly-minted wills or whether they are second-toddlers (aka teenagers,) pulled by unrelenting forces, including their own hormones and desire for independence.

toonvectors-12731-140.jpgOur original sin is never very original. Thankfully, kids make mistakes in covering their tracks. Kara Powell encourages parents, “Don’t panic. There are very few issues you will face as parents that are irredeemable, even the biggies…. The ultimate hope that is part and parcel of trusting God is the hope we have that in the long run, God’s mercy will win.” Jesus went to the cross, to hell and back to deal with sin, to provide for our salvation. We can be bold, pray hard, and face family issues head on.

Message three: pain can be good for us. We need to help our kids face this hard reality: God doesn’t promise success or an easy life; God promises His presence. God promises to be with us in our pain. This lesson needs to be modeled. It will be “caught more than taught” to our kids from us instead of by us.

Model pain. Sometimes pain serves as an early warning system. How do we face failure or tough man-and-girl-reading-bible.jpgcircumstances? How do we cope on Wednesday afternoon during a crushing week of disappointment upon disappointment? Do we let others into our lives to help, pray, and encourage us?

Name it. Kara Powell continues, “Having the support of caring parents who do not hide pain or struggle from their kids can help kids navigate the heartache and hardship of life in a broken world…. We must engage our kids in honest conversation and dialogue, soliciting their opinions and voice during those times of struggle. If you are honest and open with any issue of life or faith, your child will be a better thinker, not to mention theologian.” When life takes a wrong turn, we can grow and learn together with our families when we earnestly seek to follow God and ask for God’s help. High impact lessons can come from even our biggest screw-ups or deepest hardships. Pain pushes us to God, pushes us to grow.

Parents Must Be Present To Win. Here is our assignment:  just three messages to send out, but we must be there, all in. AND we do not need to go it alone. God’s kids, God’s truth, God’s grace to us as parents and to them.

We’re ordinary, beloved, forgiven sinners who face pain and failure in life. God packs in hope and freedom, love and grace abundantly along the way. We rediscover “the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” who is more than enough to help us face today and tomorrow. We are bearers of good news to our kids, worth believing ourselves and worth passing on.

The Crowd Goes WILD

Yesterday I called my “little” brother with great news while his family was driving to a graduation. They all cheered wildly and clapped, blasting my ears through the cell phone and making me HAPPY. Best sitting ovation I’ve ever received.

One night I started the silliness while making dinner with my sisters at the lake house. When a kid would walk into the room, I’d shout out, “Let’s give a big hand for ____!” The adults clapped and chanted their name. Hilarious how the kids started parading through the kitchen one after another. My brother took the idea back to his job in the communications department of a church; when a staff member walked in, he’d lead his team in applauding them. He was amazed how often people began to “just drop by” instead of calling.

I’m a big fan of encouraging others as I have needed all the encouragement and cheering I could get in this last year of moving and job-seeking.

So thanks, friends! Here’s to you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3i9ilHpPko

(C’mon, play it! You know you want to hear he crowd go wild for YOU!)

 

Sinkholes and Smartphones

Sinkholes

I zoomed home to find my street blocked off with police cars and caution tape. All the neighbors were congregating down the block, peering down into a sinkhole gaping open in the sidewalk. One-foot-wide and twenty-five-feet-down. Rare for the Northeast. Easily fixed with stones and concrete slurry.

Nothing compared to the sinkholes in Florida that engulf entire homes or swallow semi-trucks, perched or parked unknowingly on unstable, water-filled ground. One minute i-prac-sinkholethe surface looks good, then cracks appear, warning of immanent trouble. I remember the day my brother’s Sweetwater neighbors were told to evacuate their home immediately; the dining room caved in two hours later.

Sinkholes are commonplace in Florida, but drastic visuals combined with neighbor interviews make for good tv, so they are featured over and over. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4zjQyN7ERA

In one dramatic newscast, a Central Florida TV13 anchor intones solemnly over footage of a home split in two, “People are amazed by the sight and struck by the tragedy.”

Neighbor John V. drawls, “This whole area is sinkhole prone. Not something you expect to come home to.”

His ten-year-old son Michael adds, “They’re very nice. It’s sad to see their house fall down.”

Finally, an unidentified neighbor sums it up, “Am I concerned about my house? Absolutely.”[1]

Sinkholes swallow entire families, too. We’ve all helplessly watched it happen to a neighbor or friend. Drugs. Alcohol. Domestic violence. Lives fall apart. Dramatic, sad stories of sinkholes.

Virtual Sinkholes

What about lesser-recognized, virtual sinkholes swallowing up more and more kids and their families with them? It starts simply enough on the smartphones and devices our kids keep glued to their hands and grows into inappropriate media exposure. Because of the starkly-negative effects of gaming violence on boys, I remember saying a few years ago to my sister, “The most dangerous thing in your home is that Game Cube.” Not true anymore.

With bored kids, simple curiosity turns into more than they bargained for in a few clicks. As the neighbor in the sinkhole report said, “It’s not something you expect to come home to.” Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 11.34.53 AMParents are unaware how bedroom websurfing; unsupervised nighttime visits to sketchy sites; chats with “new friends” a.k.a strangers; even competitive dares, one-up-manship, and locker-room boy-talk of “everyone’s trying it” can lead to impulsive, unsafe behavior all too quickly. Alarming and addictive content and unhealthy, virtual relationships can sink kids into pits of blackness. One first-grade boy I know did a web search on “boobs’ and, hilariously, came up with every gross picture of breast cancer, infection, and tumor imaginable. Thanks be to God! Aversion therapy! But was that his last search? Nope.

The dangers await behind the surface of our kids’ screens to suck them in. As parents or family and youth ministers, like those Florida neighbors, we rarely spot the cracks to realize the extent of the upcoming trouble.

I can easily think of at least six, Christian kids from six, strong. Christian families who dabbled with porn, sexting, high-risk chat sites, and the occult from the apparent safety of their bedrooms. Those are just the few who couldn’t hide their habits or mistakes any longer. Am I being overly dramatic like that Florida newscaster? No. The stats are earth-shaking and speak for themselves.[2]

If your teen is unhappy, pulling away, becoming secretive, spending more and more time in front of a screen, defensive about computer use, or quickly changing screens when you approach, these are potential danger signs of internet addiction and unhealthy or unsafe computer use. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/internet-and-computer-addiction.html

Do parents stand a chance? What can we do to prevent sinkholes?

First, pray. Walk through your home and pray in and for all the spaces where your kids play, work, and sleep. Pray for your kids throughout the day and with them at bedtime. I am inspired by the faith of my great-grandparents who prayed daily for all the generations of our family, including those yet unborn, and their spouses. In our family, we count this as part of God’s faithful plan to draw my husband to Christ. Though he was raised in a vehemently atheistic family, now he’s a pastor. Parents do not need to throw up their hands in despair, for God cares about our children more than we do. Learning can happen even in and through these difficult circumstances.

Second, forgive. Both your child for crossing boundaries and yourself for missing the signs or trusting them. Find a counselor to help you work it through as a family. God can and does redeem all of us in and through brokenness. There’s comfort in Lamentations 3:51-58, from The Message,

When I see what’s happened to the young women in the city, the pain breaks my heart. Enemies with no reason to be enemies hunted me down like a bird. They threw me into a pit, then pelted me with stones. Then the rains came and filled the pit. The water rose over my head. I said, ‘It’s all over.’ I called out your name, O God, called from the bottom of the pit. You listened when I called out, ‘Don’t shut your ears! Get me out of here! Save me!’ You came close when I called out. You said, ‘It’s going to be all right.’ You took my side, Master; you brought me back alive!

In Sticky Faith, which I give my highest recommendation as a parenting book, Kara Powell encourages parents to find God’s hope and redemption even in hard circumstances:

Because our kids grow up in an increasingly complex and precarious world, filled with expectations and agendas that at times feel impossible to navigate, the odds are great that your child will ‘cross the line,’ or for some of our kids, catapult over the line. What do we do then? Default with compassion…. We are dispensers of God’s grace. Don’t panic. There are very few issues you will face as parents that are irredeemable, even the biggies…. Take the long view. The ultimate hope that is part and parcel of trusting God is the hope we have that in the long run, God’s mercy will win. We many not see it or experience it exactly the way we want to for months, or even years but trusting Christ means we believe that He is at work, bringing healing and redemption to the most hopeless of circumstances.[3]

Third, turn it off. Have device-free meals and family outings. This may be harder for us adults, actually. We’re no less addicted. Focus on your kids and savor real-time interactions. Build memories and eat meals together. Should I be “concerned about my house? Absolutely.” Be present. Be proactive. Begin this week.

Monitor and limit device usage, especially at night. Most computers and tvs have parent controls, but how many of us technologically-challenged parents take time to learn and use them? Until today. Make new rules and new beginnings. No devices or phones in the bedrooms after a certain time. Though I was irritated beyond measure when my mom used to say, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” she was right. Screens before bed negatively impact sleep and health, too.[4] George Frazier, the computer/internet guru at our school district, teaches parents how to restrict internet wifi access to kids’ devices during certain hours.

Change router settings and talk with your cell phone provider to turn off overnight access (note: calls to parents and 911 can always be allowed.) Parents can also block particular websites. Kids will have to plan ahead to make contact with friends or get homework done before the deadline or the parent can decide to override the schedule in necessary instances. Resist warnings or lectures. Say, “I put some safety measures in place in our home because I love you and want you to be free to be a kid and have fun online, not be tempted by unsafe or adult content.”

Frazier recommends iboss monitoring devices, which I found complicated. He has added a personal message that pops up for his kids whenever the iboss blocks a website or unsafe activity, “Do your homework.” My family uses the TeenSafe subscription service, which allows a parent to track texts, web history, cell location, and especially deleted messages. I keep different levels of monitoring for my thirteen-year-old boy than for my seventeen year-old girl. Not because I naively think girls are less susceptible to temptation, but at her life-stage, she is increasing her independence while I am actively coaching her to make her own good decisions before she leaves home next year. It takes vigilance and work to keep the devices neutralized in our homes.

Fourth, talk it over. Awkward, yes. Necessary? Yes. We cannot protect our kids from everything, especially when their innocent surfing for silly, fluffy cat videos on youtube can so easily turn into something eye-popping. Every parent, pre-teen, and teen need to have real conversations together about the temptations of and struggles with porn. Maybe have your kids role-play how to choose well and to say, “No, thanks. Let me show you my favorite music video–or parkour stunt video.” It’s the internet equivalent of “stranger danger” or DARE drug abuse education, which many of us parents were taught. Protect and prevent. Reassure our kids that we will love them no matter how easy or difficult they make their own lives, but some choices can lead to life-long struggles with sin and temptation. Or immediate danger from strangers posing as “friends.”

So what do sinkholes and smartphones share in common? An unsuspecting bystander, five minutes, and a deep pit.

Of course, you and your family can climb back out of the pit with God’s help, but why wait for disaster to take action? Be proactive to protect your kids. Don’t give into the draw of devices. Pray, forgive, turn it off, and talk it over. Today.

            [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4zjQyN7ERA (accessed April 20, 2015.)

[2] http://www.covenanteyes.com/2010/08/19/teens-and-porn-10-stats-your-need-to-know/(accessed April 20, 2015.)

            [3] Kara Powell and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 45-46.

            [4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/23/reading-before-bed_n_6372828.html (accessed April 19, 2015.)

Shouting in church

I run into the packed, Easter-morning church, dressed in a tunic with a shawl wrapped around my head, interrupting the senior pastor. I scare everyone with my shouts, “He is risen!” He is risen! I can hardly believe it but I have seen him myself…. Oh, but let me start at the beginning. My name is Mary and I come from the town of Magdala. Early this morning I was so sad—surely you know by now about our master Jesus who was put to death by the Romans? I was walking to his tomb when suddenly the earth shook and there was a flash of blinding light.” I go on to retell Matthew 28 in vivid, sensory terms and end with, “And so I ran, RAN, to tell everyone the Good News! He is risen!”

P1040268Then I turn to the children, “That is why on this day of days we greet other Christians by saying, ‘He is risen!’ And they respond with ‘He is risen indeed!’” The kids and I lead the church in this greeting, call and response style. I love doing it and I love that I have this passage memorized after 15 years of joyful repetition. It’s the highpoint of my year in children’s ministry. I love Easter. It makes me excited, joyful, teary all at once. I can’t wait to disrupt everything each year, just as Mary did, just as Jesus did that Sunday when he rose up from the dead.

How do you go deeper into explaining to a child the joy of the resurrection and the hope it brings to us today? How?

Later in Sunday school, I tied in a lesson on sharing our faith, too, with the excitement of that first Easter. This week, since I was teaching older kids (4th to 6th grade) I was talking about hope. We had already learned 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” So we talked about it again, “What is the hope we have? How do we share it?”

As we talked, we tried to fold origami doves. Operative word: “tried.” Just because the worship lesson website claims it is a medium-difficulty task and the kids claim to be origami experts, does NOT mean it is so. Photo on 4-9-15 at 2.13 PMDespite my careful trial runs with other kids, none of us could master folding that dove that night, so my attempt to give them a hands-on experience and form a symbol to share with others was a complete bust. How can I as a teacher do better at passing on the hope of the resurrection?

We read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which most had never heard before: We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

I asked, ”Why is this encouraging?” After a few stammers about heaven and blank stares, I added, “God raised Jesus first on that Easter morning. God can be trusted to raise those who love and follow Jesus, raise us up to heaven on that Judgment Day, to be with the Lord forever. God can be trusted and that gives us hope when we believe and are saved.”

So I asked them, “What does it take to be saved? To know for certain we will be raised with Jesus?” They answered and we looked up Romans 10:9 to read in unison, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The hope of the resurrection, the hope and joy of Easter, beautifully laid out for us.

By this time, we were so exhausted from thinking so hard, what I call “idea-normous thinking,” we had to run around in the gym for 15 minutes and play sharks and minnows.

None of the crumpled, foldy, half-bird, half-boat, rejected doves-turned-into-paper-airplanes made it out of the classroom. But I hope the echoing joy of Mary’s shouting the good news did, “He is risen!”

He is risen indeed.

Family heroes and villains

Who was your family’s hero of choice growing up? I liked Dudley Do-Right for unremembered reasons, maybe because of the Mountie uniform? Or because my Dad’s middle name is Dudley and he often got lost? Or we loved the Ripsaw Falls flume ride at Universal? Come to think of it, the six of us do enjoy a family flair for the melodramatic.

We now include 3 generations of 16 adults aged 19 to 79, plus 7 kids/grand/great-grandkids aged 4 months to 17 years old, scattered from Chicago to Orlando to Denver to Philadelphia to Minneapolis. We play together annually as a family in a water sport-centered, summer extravaganza. More local members reunite in an overly-intense, holiday celebration that leaves everyone happy, but exhausted. And then my brother jokingly asks us all to leave him alone for a few months again. Till summer.

But the minute we return home, we girls call each other on the phone, “Miss you already!” And then, for the best hour of every week, we talk. Think of it as a Monday, mobile, melodramatic version of “he said/she said.” (Did you ever play “telephone” when you were a kid? The old-fashioned party game of passing along a message to giggle over how the message changes as it spreads?) The point is rarely for giggles when we play telephone in extended families like ours. My phone rings again nearly every Tuesday morning with another voice asking, “Haven’t you heard? or “Aren’t you worried about?” We are all active in ministry, so we are allowed to gossip under the guise of prayer requests.

Each kid and grandkid in our family, each cousin and aunt and uncle, each sibling and each spouse has his or her own relationship with each other and with our parents. Do I hear a “duh?” Well, it’s not so simple with 23 of us in the e-world. We do communicate multiple times each week via texts and photo updates, emails and voicemails, mostly for positive, encouraging reasons. We weave an electronic story of our lives that includes each other. We cheer each other on, but we also take weekly turns  playing heroes and villains. One self-casts as fair Nell. Who will play Snidely Whiplash this week?

The basic plot begins with either misunderstanding or disagreement. In response, Snidely dashes off  hasty emails. Villian #2 types a snappy critique and hits reply all. One recounts the tale to another as a melodrama of bad behavior. One texts a joke to a sibling and forms an alliance. Everyone gets testy. It is all fun and frustrating at the same time. This week’s melodrama included a pre-fight over next July’s vacation. What? Start a pre-fight 5 months early? Thankfully, several replied with grace enough to carry the day. For now.

As I think about it now, we create unhealthy triangles. Little direct conversation occurs and it is useful only to stir up the hornet’s nest. The grown-up version of teasing our little brother to tears. Or tying Nell to the railroad tracks.

Dudley Do-Right doesn’t always ride up singing, “Here I come to save the day!” Do you remember Snidely’s snarl, “Curses, foiled again.” To which Dudley replies, “All’s well that ends well.” Can that type of justice carry us through to summer togetherness? I doubt it.

This week’s installment got me wondering, “How intentionally do I communicate? How do I respectfully disagree? Is it good to rely on texts, forwarded emails, and jokes instead of personal phone calls? How might we better we deal with misunderstanding? How do we stop trying to control each other? How can we let our kids be kids while helping them honor the generations? How do we make room for individual differences and wishes?” And I’m not even the token family therapist.

Come to think of it, maybe we should start the pre-prayer 5 months early instead. Bonhoeffer says, “Spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ.” Maybe I’ll call my sister to talk about it.

I’m Only Sorry on Sundays–Lying Part 2

Parents will do almost anything for our kids, but apologizing to them doesn’t come easily to us. Who among us will readily admit when we’ve lied or messed up? Sinned? Our culture rarely models apologizing, confessing our sins, or extending forgiveness. We as parents need to do that for our kids.

And it pinches. That’s why I’m a big fan of prayers of confession during worship. Even silent ones. More often than during quarterly communion. It’s hard to pretend you’re always right and noble when you all confess your sins together each week. It does make us uncomfortable; we aren’t very good at it. Or if we only confess during church, our kids can see right through us. We need to keep short accounts the rest of the week, apologizing and asking for forgiveness when we wrong others, even our families. Especially our families.

Conversely, we may feel so overwhelmed by our sin we skip over God’s forgiveness. I have seen both in the Church. When I first visited a large church and experienced a corporate prayer of confession, I couldn’t believe how incredibly brief the silent confession time was. “What?” I thought, “I’m just getting started here on my sins. Do all these lovely people have it all together? Am I the only one who sins so much?” Nope. I later found out the service was broadcast on the radio and they weren’t allowed dead airtime. But what it unintentionally communicated to me was my inadequacy. I now give a long stretch of quiet time for confession. I do warn church goers that it’ll seem like a long time. And it does. Taking time to confess is good for our souls. It gives the Holy Spirit time to whisper, shout, prompt, or whatever the Holy One needs to do in our case.

At one church when I taught adult an Sunday school class on confession during Lent, a woman turned to her neighbor in all seriousness and said, “What’s all this talk about sin? I don’t sin, do you?”  He replied, “Nope, I just mess up sometimes.” This is the same church that changed the words to Amazing Grace from “that saved a wretch like me” to the more pleasant “that saved someone like me.” But it’s hard to confess and be forgiven by God if you never face your sinfulness.

In a recent Sunday school class, I had kids play confession pictionary and charades. They acted out the things which we often do which are wrong, which require confession and apology. They had fun with the charades, from fighting over a toy, to hitting a sibling, to lying, to not sharing the last apple. They got carried away and soon were acting out murdering people and burgling houses. We then got back on track and practiced a prayer of confession, repeating a spoken prayer and adding some silent time, then saying, “Jesus, please forgive me.” At the end, they looked each other in the eye and assured each other of their forgiveness, “Jesus loves you no matter what.”

Does teaching your kids confession feel tricky to you? The hard part is the confessing our “junk,” especially out loud before our spouse or kids. You can do this; let me help out. Only two lines to memorize: 1) “Jesus, please forgive me.” 2) “Jesus loves you no matter what.” Practicing these simple, yet powerful phrases between Sundays could go a long way toward healing our families. Lord, have mercy.

Would I lie to you, honey? Part 1

With all due respect to Anne Lenox, I would and I do lie. And so do my kids, what feels like dozens of times each day. It’s one of our biggest family issues. Anyone who tells you differently is, well…

Yep, even pastor’s kids. (Mine are double PK’s, after all. Some have said the poor kids don’t stand a chance. But I believe they do!)

So, back to lying. Whether it’s the kids’ “I brushed my teeth,” or the parental “I never promised you that,” or anyone’s “I’ll do it in a minute” doozie, lying impacts how we relate to one another. Trust can be broken quick as a wink, but takes a longer time to restore it. So how do we cope with lying?

In my well-thumbed copy of Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay Foster Cline, the section on lying is dog-eared, most worn of all. It recommends being empathetic first, “Gee, I can see how it’d be tempting to tell a whopper on this one,” then holding your boundary kindly, without anger.* It is amazing how toothbrushes for younger kids and car keys for teens can become powerful teaching tools about lying.

In our house, one with ADHD and impulse control issues admits that lies just pop off the tongue unexpectedly, with ridiculous claims and promises squirting out of the child’s mouth at any given minute. We use a “Whoops. I got that wrong” instant admission option for this one. It still takes courage to admit the lie, but the child has been learning it is way better to admit right away, than to let it snowball.

What about the parental lies we tell? “Sure I’m watching you (for the tenth time in a row).” My son once called me out, “No mommy, watch me with BOTH eyes.” Or the many variations on the parents’ guilt-induced promise, “I’ll make it up to you. I’ll buy you a pony.” My most frequent seems to be, “Yep, I’ll put your clothes in the dryer for you.” But then I don’t bother to set an alarm or take action to make my promise happen.

I’m certain our kids learn more from our keeping or not keeping our promises (and from our often-overheard, white lies) than they learn from our lectures. How do we handle it when caught? Can we swallow our pride? Keep a firm commitment to truth, even to our own discomfort? (Thanks to Steve Hayner, who taught us that.) Apologize when we get it wrong and work to make it right? Have some “fierce conversations” to face reality and reestablish truth and trust?

A few years ago, I went ballistic when a child was only coming clean on the smallest fraction, the tiniest percentage of what they had done. More and more crud kept coming to light. A counselor explained, “Any teenager is only gonna admit to what we catch them on, when we absolutely prove they’ve done it. Maybe that much. It’s self-preservation. Don’t expect anything else.” Wise parents beware kids’ words, “I swear it’s true!”

The Bible addresses this, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NIV). But as always, let’s use Scripture to train and rebuke with gentleness, not as a tool with which to hammer our kids (or ourselves).

One time I asked four-year-old CC why she said ‘that.’ She threw up her hands and replied, “The devil.” She was a Church Lady, long before she saw Dana Carvey in the SNL skit. And apparently a Presbycostal, for she stepped out onto the porch, raised her hands to heaven and prayed loudly, “O Lord, help me to obey my mommy so I can do what’s right.” She stepped back inside, brushing her hands off, “Well, that’s taken care of.”

Funny, but she made a good point. We can also pray with and for each other, asking the Holy Spirit to help us be truthful and to forgive us when we’ve screwed up. But only if we’re ready to keep it real. Kids have incredibly accurate lie detectors.

Can we afford to say “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” only when we are good and ready to mean it? Do feel free to wait. It may not have taken much time to construct that whopper, but it does take time to repair it. Sometimes we say those loving words first and only THEN do we discover we mean them. Our kids, our spouses, our own selves are in need of more grace, not less. Let’s try to lavish it when we can!

Rev. Steve Weed tells of a man who wrote a note and tucked it into the glovebox of his shiny, new sports car, with the insurance papers, just in case. The note read, “Honey, if you need to use these papers, remember I love you more than this car.” She discovered it the very moment she needed TLC (and a tow truck).

That’s grace. When we offer it unexpectedly, it always arrives with great welcome. It’s the most powerful tool we parents have, along with firm boundaries and toothbrushes. Grace.

*For more details on the Love and Logic approach including the classes which I facilitate, go to http://www.loveandlogic.com, and specifically for dealing with lying, go to http://www.loveandlogic.com/p-661-childhood-lying-stealing-and-cheating-mp3-download.aspx