Wednesday, December 28

December 16 - Part One


Welcome to the world, son.

Here, we breathe air and eat with our mouths, not tubes attached to our navels. I guess you already figured that out. Would you like to know the story of your birth? It was a great day of days. We laughed, we cried, we saw you buck-naked.

The story of December 16 starts with December 15. Actually, it started nine months before that, but we can save that talk for later. By December first, your mom was ready to cut you out of her belly with a wooden spoon. It’s not that she didn’t enjoy being pregnant with you, it’s just that in the final days of pregnancy it’s hard to get comfortable. She wasn’t sleeping well, her hands and feet were swollen and she felt as though her abdomen might split open with a poorly timed sneeze or flatulence.

So your mom searched the internet, hoping to find a way to coax you out of the womb and into the world as soon as possible. She had been eating spicy food, driving over speed bumps and giving me special hugs, but none of the conventional methods were working. It was like you were clinging to her bottom ribs with your monkey toes. Finally, she came across some advice from a few of her college friends. Three of them told her that they had delivered their babies the day after eating eggplant.

Kris arranged for us to have eggplant parmesan the very next day, December 15. I don’t know if she expected a mysterious tingling or if she thought you would immediately start burrowing south, but nothing actually happened right away. In fact, we left the restaurant and went straight to our appointment at the doctor’s office, where the she checked to see how soon you would be coming. Only an hour after the eggplant, Dr. Steidl said you were still a couple weeks from joining us. Your mom was disappointed.

That night, we had a couple of your aunts and uncles over for a Christmas party. I made my famous red beans and rice and your mom baked a pumpkin cheesecake. Kris added extra Tobasco to drive you out of her belly.

After dinner we started watching It’s A Wonderful Life. George Bailey was just about to give up his honeymoon money to save the Building and Loan when Kris suddenly said, “Oh,” then hurdled the end of the couch and ran high knees down the hall. The impact of this feat was magnified by the fact that it had been weeks since she attempted anything more than a tender, waddling gait.

Through the closed bathroom door, Auntie Em and I confirmed that her water had indeed broken, which sent us into a euphoric chaos. Emily retrieved the Jacksons, who had not yet left the driveway. Aunt Kristen is a nurse, so she was helpful to your mom. Emily and I packed a bag for the hospital while James and Jared cleaned up the kitchen and powered down the movie, still in progress. In a matter of minutes, we were en route to the hospital. It was about 10:00pm.

My first disappointment was the lack of traffic. I had imagined myself turning on the hazard lights and zooming through traffic, glancing both ways as I flew through red lights. I was hoping to be pulled over by a cop so that I could explain the urgent situation and get a police escort to the ER. But at 10:00 on a Thursday night, there were only a few cars on the road. The hazards were flashing, but not from necessity. We were the only ones on the road. The chaotic scene I had imagined and emotionally prepped for was replaced by something much more serene. Your mom was completely calm. Though she was slowly leaking birthing fluid on a towel, she was not having painful contractions. So we drove in relative silence, enjoying the surreal moment. As we neared Arlington Memorial Hospital, I cautiously ran a red light just because. Your mom just laughed.

Ok, I'll tell you the rest later.

Thursday, May 26

Being With Teens

Two posts ago, we established the problem we have in relating to teens. They make us anxious and we make them anxious. With all of our good intentions, we want to work on them like projects. In their humanness, they resist this form of manipulation. We need to learn how to simply be with our teens in a healthy way. After establishing the problem, the next post addressed part of the solution, learning to be present with God as training for being present with teens. I hope you took some time to enter God's presence and simply be with him. If not, please go back to the previous post and give it a shot.

In part three of three, we'll apply what we learned about being present with God to our relationships with young people.

In John 6, Jesus tells his disciples that no one can come to him unless the Father calls him. No one comes to Jesus unless God calls them. As a minister and a missionary, no other passage provides so much relief. It is not my eloquence or hipness or charisma that brings people to Jesus, but God's call. What a relief that this is out of my hands! When we relate to our teens, we sometimes feel a deep urge from within to push them where we want them to go. With the best of intentions, we point them in the right direction, then gently push. Then the push becomes a shove, then a kick. Then we try dragging them in the right direction. Naturally, they resist. We would probably do the same thing. We probably did the same thing when our parents tried the same stunts. When we're tempted to do this with our teens, we can remember the words of Jesus here, when he reminds us that God is the one who will call our teens and bring them to Jesus. Can we have the faith to let God be God? Can we surrender the notion that we need to somehow make our teens love God?

If we were spending time with teens without trying to constantly "mold" or "influence" or "direct" or "fix" them, constantly looking for those teachable moments, what would our time together look like? Do we think teens are unaware of ulterior motives to shape them? They know what we're up to, and they don't like it! If we were to surrender these ulterior motives, perhaps we would see walls start to come down. Perhaps we would see relationships deepen. Perhaps teens would begin to learn from our actions what we could never teach them with our words.

When they choose to speak, let's listen to our teens. Look for the subjects that they get excited about, and get excited about it with them. Delight in their energy and passion. Point out the good things they do, not to manipulate them into more good behavior, but simply to praise them for their goodness. Try to notice where teens come alive and follow that thread. If our teens are accustomed to hearing us sell our agenda to them all the time, it will take time for them to notice that something has changed. However, if we continue to practice presence, we will begin to see a positive change.

Friday, May 6

God's Presence

Last post, I wrote about being present with our teens. It's not easy, but it can be more beneficial and less stressful than the other alternative, in which all our time with our teens is spent trying to manage them in some way. This post will explore the idea of making ourselves present to God. Learning to dwell in his presence will prepare us to be present to others, including our teens.

How do you approach God in prayer? Do you come to him with a list of thanks and requests? Do you pray in the shower? In the car? In bed at night? Maybe you get up in the morning and pray, or pray throughout the day. I find that sometimes praying just wears me out. I once determined to pray for a long period of time each day. I wrote out a long list of names and situations that I wanted to bring before God. I got myself in a prayerful mindset and sat in a lonely place and prayed through my list. After a few days, this process became exhausting! Also, to my shame, the prayers quickly grew cold and business-like.

More recently, I've tried to approach prayer less as "talking to God" and more as "time with God." This has been so much more refreshing! I still pray through lists sometimes, but most often I will just sit and be with God. Maybe I can tell him what is on my mind and ask him to intercede in the lives of others, or maybe I can just sit in silence, trusting that it is enough to simply place myself in his midst.

I apologize for all the first person singular pronouns. Let me share what a friend recently told me. He said sometimes when he is driving in the car, he will clear off the passenger seat so that Jesus has a place to sit and ride with him. They don't talk constantly- maybe the radio is even on. Even when he's not "praying" he is consciously spending time in his "presence."

I urge you to take time to consciously enter God's presence. Don't worry about what you need to pray about. Don't scold yourself if your mind wanders. Just give that to God. Don't worry about waxing eloquent or running down a list of needs or thanks. Don't come to him with an agenda, just come to him. Don't believe God will meet you in silence? Remember his last words spoken in Matthew: "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Can you find satisfaction in this non-judgemental, no-pressure place?

Friday, April 22

The Gift of Presence

Teenagers make adults anxious.

When we look at them, we see that they are fidgety. They are sweaty. They don't sit still and they fiddle with things. They sometimes seem to have little sense of what is going on outside of their immediate vicinity.

Adults make teenagers anxious.

When they look at us, they see that we have no friends, no passions, and we are always stressed out. We sometimes are so concerned with monitoring everything else that we seem to have little sense of what is going on in our immediate vicinity.

Teens are about energy and movement. They have emotions to express that are very important to them. They want to live, and sometimes adults seem to be doing anything but living. Adults are often about maintaining the status quo. We want children to "Liten!" "Behave!" "Be still!" and "Stop talking!" We want them to soothe our fears that they will turn out rotten. We want to know that they will not get themselves in trouble. We want assurance that they will not embarrass us.

The sum of all of these anxieties is that we are prevented from being present with teens. Most teens experience adults as either absent or lecturing. What if we were able to completely set aside our agenda and simply be with young people? How would we treat teens if we weren't trying to convince them of something or impart some lesson or ingrain in them some morsel of our wisdom? The truth is, teens learn from adults' example far more than their words anyway! What would it be like if we just made ourselves available to sit and listen?

Consider this quote from a youth volunteer:

"When I first started working with youth, I felt I had to ask them a lot of questions, make jokes and make them feel good. Now I plop down next to them and sigh and ask, "How are you?" Whether theri response is just a word or a five minute dialogue, I can sit with them knowing my full attention to them in that five seconds or five minutes is enough."

Our teens are not fully mature. They need adults to help them through the maturation process. However, we need to deprogram ourselves from thinking of them as projects that need managing rather than people who need our company and sometimes, our undivided attention.

Next week, I'll share some thoughts on being present with God. Before we can truly be present with anyone else, it is important to open ourselves up to him.

Saturday, April 16

Creating A Better Culture, Part 2

This will be my last post (at least for now) on the topic of extended adolescence. Thanks to all who have read and commented. I hope you found this research helpful. If you have any questions or want some sites to check out, let me know. Here are tips two and three for creating a culture in our homes and youth groups that will encourage our teens to grow into fruitful adults in the kingdom of God.

2. Our teens are isolated from the adult world. They spend the vast majority of their time with people their age- non-adults living in adolescence. They go to school, where adults are outnumbered (and whose influence is often subdued). They hang out with friends, who are all their age. They may go to church, but even there they interact primarily with teens their age, or maybe a youth minister or teacher. Often our goal for teens' interaction is that they hang out with "good kids" as opposed to teens who might be a bad influence on them. This is great, but it is not enough for teens to only hang around other teens, no matter how good an influence those other teens may be. Teens need to spend time with adults.

Teens should spend time with adults because they need to see what adulthood looks like. They need to see what it is like to have responsibility. They need to see what life should look like for them in the future. If they never see adults operating as adults, how can they come to know what is involved in growing out of adolescence?

I have noticed that our church's small groups have missed an opportunity to get our teens around adults. Most of our teens have gravitated to one or two small groups that have a high concentration of teenagers, which is understandable, because teens enjoy being together. However, I think small groups would be a great place for our teens to interact with adults. When I have brought up the possibility of making our teens go with their parents to small groups instead of congregating at a single "teen" small group, I have met resistance. The common argument is "but teens think adults are boring." Although I can't argue with that (I think adults are boring sometimes, too), I don't think it is a valid reason to further quarantine teens, since they are already estranged enough from adult culture. What if our teens not only attended a small group, but also participated? I think it would be highly formative and it would mature them a lot, even if they were bored sometimes.

3. Instead of raising a "child," raise and adult. The experts say that our vocabulary matters. By using certain words in lieu of others, our mindset begins to change. For example, instead of referring to young people as "kids," try calling them "teens" or "young adults." It may start to change your paradigm. Consider this one: often parents see their job as "raising good children." But is that really what parents want? No. Parents want to raise good adults! Ten years from now, what will it matter that your 24 year old was a "good child?" What you want ten years from now is a child who grew into a good adult. So you might change your vocabulary from "raising children" to "raising adults." Or, you might start thinking of your teenager as an "apprentice adult," since that is really what you would like her to be.

Thanks for reading. Next week, I'm planning to start a series on being present with our teens. I'll offer a quote as a preview: "Teens are in more need of your presence than your knowledge."

Friday, April 8

Creating A Better Culture

This post picks up where I left off last week, concluding that extended adolescence is not a biological phenomenon, but a cultural behavior we have taught our young people. The bad news is that the culture to which we have all contributed is to blame for our youth's perpetual immaturity. The good news is that since it is cultural learned behavior, we can make intentional choices that will alter the culture of our homes and churches so that our young people can grow into fruitful adults in the kingdom of God. In this post, I will discuss the first of a few deliberate ways ways we can alter our home and church culture for the better.

1. Our culture has taught us that the best parent is the one whose child gets in the least amount of trouble and is the best behaved. If we think about this, we can see that it is not true at all, but when the rubber meets the road, we typically try to control children because that is the best way to "parent" them. In the context of extended adolescence and its causes, this is clearly problematic. The more we control, the less meaningful responsibility young people have, which teaches them to be adolescent, not adult.

One writer gives the illustration of a puppy in a yard and a puppy in a park. If a dog owner lets her puppy run free in a park, the dog wil run and run and possibly never come back again. It's just more freedom than is healthy for a puppy. However, a leash is too resrictive. A puppy on a leash will never damage anything and he will never be run down by a truck. However, he will never be ready for life in the park. A better solution, the writer suggests, is to put the puppy in the fenced-in yard. Sure, he will dig up some roses and he might chew up the hose, but he probably won't do any major damage to himself or anything else. In the meantime, the puppy grows in a realtively safe environment and is growing capable of handling the freedom of the park.

Research has proven that teenagers need and want boundaries. It is counter-intuitive to imagine teenagers wanting boundaries, but studies show that they are happier and more successful socially and academically when they have clear boundaries set before them. These boundaries, however, need to be loose enough that there is freedom for them to make bad choices that result in natural consequences. Another lie we have been made to believe is that only a bad parent allows their children to suffer consequences. When our teens make mistakes with serious consequences, we often see parents taking the brunt of the blow. Is this preparing them to be adults? Often as an adult we make decisions that result in negative consequences. Sometimes the consequences are disprportionate to the crime, but alas, the price must always be paid in full. To deprive teens of such an experience is to take away ameaningful learning opportunity that can be significantly formative.

The main idea is that our culture, at home and in our youth groups, should be one in which teens are protected from themselves, but where they are free to make their own decisions for better or worse. When they are for the worse, we have to fight our inclination to save them, since, in doing so, we will deprive them in the long run.

Next we will unpack two more tips for establishing a healthy culture for teens.

Thursday, March 31

Extended Adolescence

I’ve done some research lately on Extended Adolescence and I’d like to share some of the things people are saying about the culture in which our teenagers are growing up. Much of this is a summary of work done by Mark Yaconelli and Mark Oestreicher.

All you have to do is take a retrospective glance and you’ll see that Americans are “kids” longer now that they were 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. The attitudes and actions we associate with adolescence (rebellion, moodiness, lack of other-awareness) can be seen not just in teenagers, but well into the twenties and even thirties in some cases. And the upper range of adolescence is growing all the time. In the 1970s, research concluded that adolescence began at 12 and ended at 18. This is why 18 is the age of “adulthood” at which Americans can vote, join the military and marry without parental consent. Now, forty years later, adolescence begins (on average) at age 10 and ends (on average) at age 30. Some researchers suggest that eventually there will be no upper limit to the age of adolescence. Instead it will be a “lifestyle choice” that some make to never grow into full adulthood.

What researchers are learning is that adolescence is not a physiological phenomenon (related to puberty), but a cultural phenomenon. In other words, young people act this way because that is how we are telling them they should act. Want evidence? Look to the past. Your grandparents were adults who handled major responsibility at the same age that your children have to be coaxed out of bed every morning to go to school. We didn’t change that much biologically in three generations. It’s cultural. Also, a look at world cultures will reveal that extended adolescence only occurs in first world cultures that are influenced by American media. What this means is our young people are not “late bloomers,” they are just being told that they are children when in truth they are not.

So why has this happened? Others have made many suggestions that can be boiled down to three:

1. We have systematically isolated youth from the adult world.
Teenagers have very little regular interaction with adults, other than those who are paid to be with them in their culture. Classrooms are full of teens and teen culture. Youth groups are often seen as a separate church for young people.

2. We removed responsibility and expectation.
Adulthood is characterized by responsibility and expectation. In the name of protecting our teens, we often soften the consequences of their actions and provide them with lowered expectations. This teaches them that they are children, and they act accordingly.

3. We removed on-ramps to adulthood and inter-generational relationships.
The presence of adult relationships provides an opportunity for teens to see adulthood firsthand and learn by example how to accept meaningful responsibility and consequences.

This post is bunches of gloom, but there is good news- since extended adolescence is NOT biological, but cultural, we can change it. We can choose the culture in which our families will live. We can choose the culture we want for our youth group. In subsequent posts, I’ll discuss ways we can change our culture and help our teens grow into the fruitful adults God wants them to be.