Kids + Life = Surprise!

Anything shock you lately? Surprise your socks off? Blue hair might fall in that category….

Before we were even dating, my husband Ken asked me to throw him a surprise 30th birthday party. “Um, if you’re expecting the party, how do I surprise … oh, never mind. Sounds like a fun challenge.” It turned out to be a great gathering of friends. He’s asked me to throw him a surprise party every 5th year since: a tacky tourist party, a micro-brew hangout, a 70’s bash, a family scavenger hunt, and a church-wide mission project. Each an extrovert’s delight.

Not all kid surprises equal good parental surprises though. Like the baby blowouts that necessitated “Mr. Clean” Ken’s changing Carlina’s clothes three times in a row in his first hour of singlehandedly caring for her. An unshakeable father-daughter bond formed that messy summer. While Ken was relieved and delighted to start teaching again in fall, he wouldn’t trade those early months together for anything. Such love surprised him. Bad beginning, good ending, paying dividends for the last eighteen years and counting.  All of which paved the way for our recently-applauded, “chill response” to Carlina’s post-Christmas, blue hair. Surprise!

It doesn’t always work that way. In our house with two students flexing their independence and two parents dealing with new jobs, right now there are not enough “chill responses” to go around. Exhaustion. Impatience. Anger. Fear. Stress. Change. Overwork. These factors eat fun for lunch–or dinner–no matter what age your kids are.

Even the good intentions of a surprise–a mother’s day dinner out–predictably went awry with our two and six-year-old, devolving into an overpriced whine-fest. (p.s. Don’t ever recap such an event by saying, “No biggie; I’ve finally lowered my expectations enough, so I thought it was a good Mother’s day anyway.” Do not speak such exhausted mama-truth to your earnest husband. Don’t even think it loudly.)  I frequently say the wrong thing at the right time.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re on your way to somewhere else.” Kids+ Life = “Surprise!” What about receiving the late night phone call every parent of a teen driver dreads? Finding a wadded-up, lousy report card? Discovering your kid is being bullied by classmates … or doing the bullying? Rushing to the ER, triggering a chain of medical treatments? Facing student depression and/or struggling with disorders?

Anytime a kid starts a pronouncement, “I’ve got something to tell you, Mom. Don’t get mad, but _____,” what comes next will in all likelihood be life-changing: “I lost my _____.” Or, “I missed the _____, but hit a _____.” Or,”I’m _____.”Or, I tried my best, but _____.” Or, meet my new _____.” Surprise!

As a family minister, my conversations often begin when your difficult family conversations end. Though it seems students never put down their devices, our kids are watching us sideways and listening closely to how we respond to “Surprise!”

And I’m not talking about blue hair here, which obviously grows out. I’m thinking about the biggies. In fact, such disasters and follow-up conversations are so predictable with teens that a wise parent brainstorms or role-plays in advance how to respond–sidestepping anger and reaching up for God’s love, mercy, and  grace. With discipline as needed. But not until the next day.

Our words matter. Most of us are not good at thinking on our feet and responding quickly with kindness or love. Then we replay these hard conversations over and over in the middle of the night. I know I need practice being calm & gracious, how about you?

Truth be told, these conversations with students never really end. They just begin a new series of discussions. A student recently tweeted, “The problem lies not in what we say, but in what we do not say.” Can we plan ahead for what we might say–and what we promise ourselves and those we love we will not say?

At Families@Five, a worship service for young families at Second Church Indy, we prayed a simple prayer together to confess our sins every week, followed by our assurance of pardon, “Turn and look someone in the eye and say to them, ‘Jesus loves you no matter what.'”

How can we say that in the face of “Surprise?” How can we respond with God’s-no-matter-what-love, “Nothing you can do can make us love you more and nothing you can do can make us love you less. Your life might get harder, but we’ll love you through it.”

Revelation 21:3-6 gives us a clear, beautiful picture of Jesus as our starting–and ending–point in conflict and in tough situations.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

If Jesus is with us, if we are his people, and if God himself is with us as our God, then Jesus has got this surprise covered. If Jesus can handle even this surprise from beginning to end,  if Jesus will wipe away every tear and all this pain,if Jesus will make all things new, then we will be ok. More than ok. This situation and we will become new.

“Sure,” you might say, “But what about right now, when life sucks?” What about the time before heaven, this in-between-time, when we have to live the reality of stupid choices, when there’s danger or fall-out, when our kids face tough consequences and life-altering decisions, when we pour out tears and regret?

Or when we’re not ready to move through it yet, but mired in denial, anger, conflict, or stubbornness, and kids are stoney in rebellion or headstrong persistence, a long way from repentance?

Jesus’ promise isn’t for just someday. Jesus is making all things new right now.

Jesus doesn’t give up when it gets hard, or when we mess up, or when we stink at forgiving, or when we say the worst possible things at the worst possible time. Jesus doesn’t wait on us to parent well or to get our stuff together to begin working in the situation, and Jesus doesn’t wait for our kids to realize the error of their ways. Jesus’ work in us and in our kids is not over when we fail. Hear Philippians 1:6, “[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Even in the now, we can ask for the Spirit to help us love with Jesus’ love, in small ways immediately. We can take one step toward giving mercy with Jesus’ mercy and forgiving with Jesus’ forgiveness. We can be ready for the new, even when it is painful in the now and in the days to come. Jesus has already redeemed us and already redeemed even this situation. It is already accomplished, not by us, but by God. It begins and ends with Jesus: “These words are trustworthy and true. And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

We can respond to our kids with what we all long to hear,”We love you. We’re in this together. And God is in this. God is for you.” Surprise!

 

For excellent ideas on praying for your family, see Cindi McMenamin’s article http://www.crosswalk.com/family/parenting/7-ways-to-pray-when-your-child-goes-astray.html (accessed 1/27/17).

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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…”

 

 

 

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.

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.)