Do I Belong? Dragging kids to Church

I asked my fourteen-year-old why he never wants to hang around church anymore. He answered thoughtfully, “Nobody really talks to me. You know, Mom? People don’t introduce themselves to new people or people they don’t know.”

Hoping for a chance to hear more, I responded, “I can see how it feels that way. But remember, you’re a teenager now and we have our own corner of the church, so we don’t always see other people. We’re newish and they don’t all know you yet– plus you don’t go to everything, either. Do you think that messes things up?”

As a teen, his Sunday-morning-persona ranges from somnambulist to tortured p.o.w. and his responses to adult attempts at chatting resemble gorilla’s grunts.

“So there are what, three events a year, and I missed one? And let’s see, 40 people have dinner together on Wednesdays–but only five students come.  This church really doesn’t do “everybody-get-together” stuff. Don’t you remember the chili cook-off and international dinner at our last church?  At our old church all the families did stuff together all the time. Caroling and BBQs, remember? I guess the Chois and the Wengers here are good at inviting people over. So that’s two pluses.”

Fascinating. In two years since we moved, he has rarely mentioned a friend his age whom he misses or talked about anyone in particular from Chicago other than cousins. Yet he misses the feeling of belonging .and being known at church, being cheered for, and being loved by whole families, by all ages, parents included. I was listening. I didn’t try to argue why Church is good for him or why he should go. His feelings matter as much as those Truths (and they can wait. They will still be true later.)

Granted this is from the kid who used to be the self-appointed mayor of our last church. Now he’s no longer the kid of the senior pastor, no longer the darling of the little old ladies. And I must add, no longer very talkative, either. As a teen, his Sunday-morning-persona ranges from somnambulist to tortured p.o.w. and his responses to adult attempts at chatting resemble gorilla’s grunts.

PaperArtist_2016-02-24_22-27-00

In other words, my son told me he longs to belong and to be known. I am so glad my son is connected with a mentor this year as he goes through Confirmation. A kind, displaced-midwesterner with a friendly smile and ready laugh, whom our daughter named “the most joy-filled person in the church.”  His healthy interest in our son makes a difference.

As adults, our efforts matter to learn students’ names, to keep track of their activities, to ask how “the big game went” or “what are the dance plans?” Please move past their “I-don’t-care” mask to reach for the heart. One person a week, reaching out in one pew, can make or break a kid’s church experience. It’s not complicated. Open our eyes, open our hearts, open our mouths to welcome, saying without words, “You belong.”

 

Dr. Seuss and the Places You’ll Go!

Years back, Ken invented a mythical place we did NOT want to end up living in any of our moves to a new pastoral call: Dismal Seepage, Nebraska (DSN for short). In fifteen years of ministry, we’ve interviewed at a few churches that were located too nearby to DSN. We boldly ran the other direction. Maybe to Tarshish. Once I cried through the worship service at a potential church as I realized the Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.45.14 PMonly thing our kids would like about that church would be taking turns ringing the big church bell on Sunday mornings.

The great philosopher Dr. Seuss was enthusiastic about moving, “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself  any direction you choose.”

Philadelphia. We moved here from Chicago 20 months ago. Moved away from my close-knit, Midwest family to a place where I had no connections whatsoever. Moved east instead of west, which had been our long-term, intended direction.

Bruce Larson used to say, “When God wants to teach us a lesson, He takes us on a trip.”

This has sometimes felt like long trip for me. Did I mention living in the Northeast is vastly different from the Midwest or Northwest where we’ve resided? People passing on the street look right past me and NOBODY talks to strangers, even to friendly, smiling, middle-aged women. Our middleschooler likes the NE the most of all our family members, “It’s awesome here, Mom. Everyone is rude all the time. You don’t even have to try to be polite and friendly!” So there’s a plus I hadn’t considered.

But at least it’s not DSN, right? Not by any objective standards. A year ago it all depended on which day you asked me what I’d call it. I enjoyed walking the parks and rolling with the hills; I was wowed to see the explosion of cherry blossoms, like a Whoville wonderland! The Barnes museum with its impressionist art collection is my kinda place. I bump into founding fathers’ history everywhere I turn. And nearby are DC, Boston, and NYC where we’ve had fun, family, weekend adventures.

Plus our family plugged into a neighborhood church, a church where I eventually ended up on staff, serving youth and their families. It’s been a privilege.The church family has adopted us in love and opened their hearts to us.

The Spirit encourages us to look at life as an open door, an invitation to walk through to God’s adventure. In All the Places to Go, John Ortberg writes, “An open door is an opportunity provided by God, to act with God and for God” (14).

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.47.52 PMOne of my problems for the first 9 months was that I hadn’t made enough opportunity to act my way into anything. No job yet, not many friends . . . at least I finished my DMin degree.

Ortberg’s words resonated with me in my ups and mostly downs of that first year, “When I go through open doors, I will often discover that my faith is really weaker than I thought it was before I went through” (46).

Ortberg goes on, “ Anytime you step through an open door, your story and Jesus’ story begin to get mixed up together, and you become part of the work of God in this world. The only way to fix a broken story is to embed it in a larger story that begins and ends well”(77).

The resurrection reminds us the story does, indeed, end well.

I bumped into a series of facebook messages between me and my friend Ann from Indy, a young mother of two who was diagnosed with serious, advanced breast cancer. She has been a five-year survivor. She wrote me,

“I have hoped and prayed during these 8 months that this journey would be for God’s glory – no matter the outcome. It may sound strange (well it did to my mother-in-law but I bet you will understand) . . . one of my prayers has also been that I would not miss the blessing in all this. The lesson. The wisdom. The change. Whatever it is and whatever it is to be called – I did not and do not want to miss it! I am still asking God to help me discern what I am to learn and how I am to grow. Others have brought me courage and hope and I am so touched that I could do that for you – such an honor.” Ann VM, 6/27/13

How do I keep my eyes wide open to the blessing even in unexpected life change, that it may be for God’s glory? I don’t want to miss a thing.

I just bumped into this draft written last May.  Cool to see the difference a year makes and how God answers prayer in unexpected ways, often through His people!

 

10…9…8…Launched!

From age three on, our curly-haired darling would announce, “I’m going far, far away from you, mama!” And so she has. Argentina, to be exact. Launched into the great big world at 17. At age four, we left her at Grandma’s as we led a two-week high school trip to Greece. We could barely get her to stop playing long enough to speak to us on the phone, “I’m never ever gonna see you again but it’s ok, ‘cause Grandpa and I are having so much fun. Bye!”

The sense of independence that began with visits to Gram and Gramp increased in ever-widening circles, aided by “so much fun!” Summer camps.  Mission trips. We could get rarely a peep out of her about her world-expanding experiences, other than a thumbs up as they were special, fantastic events to be savored by her alone.

Then puberty and romance. First dates. Growing six-feet tall. First boyfriend (NOT six-feet tall). Driver’s license.  First fender-bender. Moving states and changing schools. Striving for a 5.0 GPA. Volleyball tournaments. Finding new friends who didn’t speak English. Learning more and better Spanish from them. Falling in love with Latin America. Causing a two-alarm fire truck response to our rental house– never mind, long story.  Solo flights to both coasts for college visit weekends. And now Argentina for five months.

Carly’s dream of going on international exchange emerged and snowballed into reality with her vision of beginning a center for intercultural understanding someday. She applied for the AFS Latin American program and won one of four scholarships, was accepted into the Argentine program, then assigned a host family. (n.b. After one month in Argentina, she switched families.) After NO goodbye fanfare (Text: “Taking off soon. Bye!”), nine hours by plane to Buenos Aires and fourteen cross-country hours by bus later, she was warmly welcomed by her host family. (Text: “I’m with my family in Tucumán, the travel was luxurious and they are amazingly wonderful people. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING.”-Carly) (Subtext: “That’s it, mom. See you in July.”)

Launched. We have just launched one quarter of our family. Crazy to realize it’s happened to us. It’s different to write a blog called FamilyLaunch than to do it, right? I shouldn’t be surprised she’s gone, though I’m still dizzy in the head as I pick up the pieces that are still whirling about in the tornado of her departure.  Maybe Hurricane Carly is more apt? Connecting with her year–long crush and falling madly in love in her final 3 weeks here.  Maneuvering to spend every minute together with him.  Breaking curfew.  Getting a speeding ticket.  Arguing with us, “You’re driving me crazy. I can’t wait to leave! I’m 18; I should be able to____.”  (me: “NOT YET!”)  Letting slip a few confessions, “I didn’t actually take my online government class final yet, but I have till June, right?” “Oops, I lost my retainer in Miami.” “Dang, can’t find my glasses; just mail them, ok?” Last minute packing and unpacking when the suitcase weighed 15 pounds over limit. These actions were all out of character for her, so they made our heads spin.

I’m told this is perfectly normal “leaving home” behavior. Some students even pick a fight, so everyone is mad and it makes the student’s breaking away to independence  and the parents’ letting go a little easier. Soooo much easier !?

Then at last, “She’s gone. Whew!”

 Quiet. Breathe. Peace in the house. Inner turmoil.

Reading her tweets (via Google translate) such as: “New  family!” with a happy picture of her bus station welcome and “I miss Chipotle and Ben & Jerry’s more than I miss my family” reassure me in a back-handed way. When it doesn’t feel as if my daughter broke up with me.

Dropping the habit of “checking in/checking up on her” is harder than I thought. Not entirely because I am a control freak, but because it turns out THIS WORLD IS A DANGEROUS PLACE! AND MY CURLY-HAIRED, THREE-YEAR-OLD—um, I mean eighteen-year-old—IS OUT THERE IN IT!

Our first contact via Skype one week after she arrived involved her rapid-fire-talking for 90 minutes (despite a cold and hoarseness), giving us a horrifying description of her birthday night at the disco when one of the 10 girls had a drug slipped into her drink. Since the other girls’ solutions involved propping the girl up on a bucket outside and dumping glasses of water on her, Carly took charge by ushering everyone into a taxi at 5am to take her home. (“But don’t worry, Mom and Dad. Everyone says that NEVER happens. And my dad here is a policeman! I’m safe!”) As my wise sister reassuringly pointed out, Carly handled a surprisingly scary situation with initiative and decisiveness, while commenting casually “I’m never going back there.”

Other quick texts from Carly do this mom’s freakish heart good, “Found a Sunday night church service,”  “Say Hi to the Youth Group.” “Thanks for pics. Kinda miss you.”

Until last weeks’ text, “Food poisoning. Nearly threw up in class on the 2nd day of school.” 😦  We actually traded texts for a few day while she was sick in bed—mostly about immodium— and it was followed up 6 days later,”Things better.” (Subtext:Don’t need you anymore, mom… for now.”)  I am proud of Carly’s brave handling of new challenges.

Meanwhile, I know all the drama of leaving (and then returning for three weeks this summer) will be followed up in rapid succession by a theatrical encore, her August college departure for Davidson College in North Carolina.

Carly’s leaving is not temporary: “I’m going far, far away from you, mama!” She’s on her way to adulthood. While Carly is in Argentina, the clock ticks on. She is truly launched.

I am getting accustomed to being a family of three.  A male, mom-is-outnumbered, family of three. As soon as I turn my focus to my son, in an instant, the next shocking count-down begins, to send him off to high school, “Ten, nine, eight…”

 

 

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!)

 

Beyond Duct Tape and a Good ER

a-duct-tape-wallpaperAs I was duct taping the bumper today, I thought as I often do, “Am I on Candid Camera?” The stuff of my life is often too wacky to seem for real. Or maybe a better thought, “What if my life had a laugh track to remind me to take it all lightly?”

Oh, for that I do have two handy teenagers. No roses, no thanks, no sentimental expressions of love for Mother’s Day this year. “ Mom, I can’t believe you had a baby. Babies are parasites living off your own well-being. That’s just gross,” stated my seventeen-year-old daughter ever-so-sweetly. My snappy reply: “Yes you are a parasite. The cutest parasite I’ve ever loved.” As my friend Lance says, “That’s comedy, folks.”

Doesn’t it feel like we parents are, indeed, being sucked dry by parasites? On better days, we simply feel overwhelmed, as if parenting is beyond our coping ability, beyond our wildest imagination. Or we just feel worn out. Did anybody warn us about: the piercing flash of love you feel for a newborn, then days later the midnight desperation of caring for a colicky infant? How about the uncertainty of dealing with demanding toddlers in public, the stress of managing family sports schedules, or the anxiety over idiotic moves teens make? I wasn’t prepared, that’s for sure. My own mother’s favorite lines fail me now, “You just have to stay one-half step ahead of them.” Or those she used when I was a kid, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” Or “it won’t be equal, but it’ll be fair,” or was it “It won’t be fair, but it will be equal.” (I think she resorted to confusing the four of us as a last ditch effort.)

What do I think I need to cope and to thrive as a parent?

A go-to support team. Good friends or kind people who will pat me on the back, laugh with me, cry together, pray with me, and say “it’ll get easier, “ even if that might only be wishful thinking. Maybe your siblings, small group from church, or the hospital birthing class. People who can help you laugh again.

Time apart. I need my husband to tag team during a crisis, fight, or tantrum, to tap my shoulder and say, “Take a break. I’ve got this.” And if you’re a single parent, I hope you find a friend who will swap a few hours after work or weekend overnights or so you can get a break. We all need a chance to breathe and to renew our souls apart from shrieks of “Mommy. Mommy!” We need to be able to develop our own interests, too, in order to learn or relearn how to be our best selves. It’s amazing the improved perspective we can find after a little sleep or a long run.

Caring, safe adults to love our kids. We need people who will show our kids how to grow into responsible citizens, or at least people with a fun sense of humor—especially when we lose ours with the teen years. They need people who will cheer for them on the sidelines or in the auditorium. People whose faces light up when they see our kids, who greet them by name, who genuinely ask how they are and follow up. Our kids need faith mentors—to know others who also know God. Reggie Joiner calls this “widening the circle” and if I could only own two parenting helps, they’d be Parenting Beyond Your Capacity by Reggie Joiner and Carrie Nieuwhof and Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster Cline.

Faith and Hope. Ultimately, beyond the daily basics, lessons, and comforts we provide for years, we launch and let go of our kids in faith, with hope and a prayer. God is responsible for how our kids learn and grow–and thankfully God loves them far more than even we can. In Sticky Faith, which I also give my highest recommendation–Kara Powell encourages parents to find God’s hope and redemption even in hard circumstances:

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?... 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.[1]

I also need a bottle of ibuprofen, duct tape, a good ER, and a solid 529 plan, but I’ll leave it for you to fill in the blanks. What do you think you need as a parent?

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

 

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.