Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do Nascar Drivers Have Room To Breathe?

First, a disclaimer: I am not an expert. I don’t parent my teen or relate to any other teens I know from a place of PhD intellect and “expertise”. I parent and relate from my gut and my heart - and I screw up. A lot. But not always. I don’t know for sure what works any more than the next over-worked, over-tired, and over-stressed out Mom knows. What I do know is, my kid does talk to me. And I do mean REALLY talks to me. We’ve had conversations that began with a question of hers which caused a little throw-up to threaten at the back of my throat. She’s only 14, but so far, we’ve lived through it and come out on the back end of those talks both sighing in relief, with a better understanding of the topic and of each other. Thank you God for those late night conversations – Please keep them coming.

When I stop to think about it, and I often do, it’s incredible the amount of stuff teenagers today have to take in, process, deal with, be responsible for, face, learn, un-learn, do, or not do. They have instant access to more information, opinions, ideas, music, and images than I could’ve even fathomed during my own teen years – more than I can fathom now. As a parent it’s like steering them down a slick and winding road in a stock car approaching full speed with a death grip on the steering wheel while barely breathing. It’s hard sometimes to know when to relax and let off the brake a little, and when to buckle up and slam the brake to the floor.

I’m the first to admit that it takes an act of sheer will to “Mother” my daughter rather than “Smother” her. I have to verbally remind myself repeatedly, “Yes, she is my baby girl – but she is no longer a baby.” I worry about bullying. I worry about drugs. I worry about teen sex. I worry about alcohol. I worry that she’ll have her first kiss too soon, then I worry that she won’t have one until she’s 30. I worry about broken hearts, then I worry she’ll never have a boyfriend. I worry about… EVERYTHING.

Often, I think it’s easy to give in to our fears about all these things and to almost allow those fears to guide us in our parenting. We think, if I don’t talk about these things, if I don’t tell my child that this exists - my child won’t know it and will be spared. We convince ourselves, if I don’t let my child talk to anyone outside of a certain group, if I don’t let my child know anyone who doesn’t fit a certain mold – my child will be spared. In church circles, we feel security in finding a “Holy Huddle” for our children. It’s a false sense of security. Allowing our fears to drive our parenting is surely a failure on our part. I can’t think of a more sure or quick method of crippling and smothering a child on almost every level.

When we are driven by our fears we respond to our teens asking point blank about sex by telling them “Mom and Dad go to sleep and wake up pregnant.” Or we have conversations with teens asking them to consider whether “Justin Bieber is a “real” Christian or has he begun to embrace the dark side”. (I couldn’t make this stuff up folks. Has the Beibs even claimed Christianity for himself?) Newsflash: They know we’re lying about sex. They think we’re crazy - not the fun kind of crazy, but the “Um, her eyes look like Manson’s” crazy - when we ponder a 15 year old pop sensation’s ties to the Devil. When they know we’re lying, and they think we’re crazy – they then begin to dismiss and doubt everything else we tell them also. Think about it, do we respect, trust and believe people we know lie to us, or those who come off as a tad too much panicky (i.e. “crazy”) about some passing trend? No. We don’t. And we don’t hold any stock in anything they tell us. Well, our kids aren’t stupid either.

Please know that I do understand there are BAD things in this world. There are things we should protect our children, ourselves and anyone we care about from. I’m just saying that if you’re kid has read the “Harry Potter” books (mine hasn’t), or the “Twilight” books (mine has – and I did too – and they’re GOOD) – you’re kid isn’t about to become a Wizard or a Vampire. With any luck, they’ll decide to be a good student who cares about his friends like Harry, or they’ll decide to wait until marriage to have sex like Bella. (Can we as Christian parents ask for more than virginal brides and grooms? I meant this to be funny, but it’s so what I’m hoping for. Seriously.) I’m not saying there’s no badness, no darkness in the world – I’m just saying we shouldn’t be creating evil where it doesn’t necessarily exist, we should be celebrating the stage of life they’re in and pointing to a vision for their road ahead. Fear has caused a great many of us to usher into our teens a deep sense of apathy and shattered innocence long before Justin Bieber, J.K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer did. Instead of creating evil where only imagination has existed, why don’t we focus more on the real evils they face? The scariest of which is that deep apathy that seems to be swallowing an entire generation (or two).

Apathy is like hard rain on the windshield – one can’t see through it to the truth and certainly not to a bright future. I’m saying that when we allow our parenting to be fear driven, we parent in a panicked frenzy, holding our breath the entire time. When we allow our parenting to be fear-driven we make it hard for our teens to breath – we truly smother them. We make it hard for them to see - instead of giving them a vision to hold on to, we give them a picture of ourselves as liars and crazies. We should enjoy some of the teen angst with them – assure them they’re normal and “OK”, remind them that these years don’t last forever and give them a vision for their future.

If we want our teens to come to us with their burdens, thoughts, cares – we have to be able to really listen (instead of mentally preparing our lecture against them to correct them). We can’t lie, withhold the truth or go off half crazy about sex, movies, and just LIFE. We can’t feign mini-strokes when they say something we don’t whole-heartedly agree with. Instead we must hear them out and then calmly and honestly share our thoughts, opinions and beliefs. If we want our teens to have a strong, real faith – we can’t simply cram Bible verses down their throats and force them to worship when they’re “chill-axin” with their friends. Memorized verses don’t prove a relationship with God, and forced worship is no worship at all anyway. We can’t tell them that Edward Cullen is Evil (he’s not, he’s just HOT!). Most importantly we have to display real faith through our own trust of God. Truth is, if we are busy controlling every aspect of our teen’s life, every single thing they see, hear, say, do, etc. – and if we’re busy telling them half-truths or making evil out of the truly harmless - then we are too busy to be trusting God. Do we trust our teens in His hands? Do we trust Him enough to take our foot off the brake a little? Do we trust Him enough to give ourselves and our teens room to breathe? Do we trust Him enough to let Him drive?

As for me, I’m buckled up – and trying my hardest to stay in the passenger seat (No really, I mean it!). I’ve got the windows down. I’m breathing in big gulps of fresh air and I’m trying to enjoy the ride.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Long Way To Go, Short Time To Get There

I know and love some of the greatest people you’d ever want to meet. The mix of those I call “friend” is a varied and colorful group encompassing folks of all interests, opinions, spiritual beliefs, passions, and ages. While differences in any of these areas can sometimes create difficulties to overcome in relationships, I’m starting to think age might be the hardest. I’m thinking this because of a group my friends, all under 30, who I fondly refer to as “The Young and Beautifuls”.  (They are both of these things inside and out by the way.)
What makes them pretty on the inside are their kindness, their strong faiths, their commitment to their friendships and their marriages (best examples of young marrieds I’ve ever personally known), they are active in their communities and in our church and they’re just all-around good eggs.

However, over the past few months, I’ve discovered their dark side. They are all health nuts! Sometime last spring, my daughter and I were included in a conversation wherein the Young and Beautifuls were planning to run the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day together. My daughter, Rebecca, in a mildly-interested tone asked, “Can teenagers do it too?”

Now, I’m not sure which one of these dastardly kiddos responded, and I don’t want to know because I want to still love them all - (however, I do suspect it was the friend I call “Face”) – but someone did respond to Rebecca’s question with a, “Yep! I think it’s open to anyone 14 and up.”

The very next day, my usually sweet daughter says “Mom, we should do that marathon thing together. Don’t you think?” (Um, Nooooo, I do not.) I hesitated, but she was so eager about it. I mean, come on… for a 14 year old teen-age girl to want to do something with her Mother, and for that 14 year old girl to be the one to initiate the togetherness – with eagerness in her voice! Honestly, that’s just so rare! I admit it. I got drunk off of the “My Baby Still Loves Me!” feeling and I excitedly said “Yes! Yes! Let’s do it girl!”

It’s important to note here that as of last spring, I was walking only a couple of times a week, and a long walk for me was 3 miles. For the Half Marathon I will have to be able to endure a little over 13 miles, and I’ll have to run at least some of the distance or I won’t finish the event within the allowable time frame.

Oh, and I’m not super skinny….yeah, let’s say it that way “Not super skinny.” Yes, I like it. While we’re at it, I was also “Not very active.” My food intake was “Not Jenny Craig.” And, my preferred method of travel was “Not by foot.”

In any event, I’d agreed to the Marathon. I didn’t want to let Rebecca down (I still don’t want too). I knew I was going to have to give it my best shot, because I didn’t want her to see me give up (yet again). I wanted her to see that I am willing to do hard things, and that there are benefits to accepting and facing a challenge. So, during the last week in May, I printed off instructions for how to complete a half marathon via Run/Walk intervals. We started with 3 mile walks, gradually including short stretches of running. By the first week of August we were able to last right at 6 miles on our “distance day” (how’s that for learning the lingo?) and the running portions weren’t killing us. We were feeling pretty darn good about ourselves! Then… a setback.

Due to an unexpected and severe Kidney Stone attack and subsequent treatment, I was on bed rest for the first 23 days of September. When I wasn’t drugged, sleeping or in pain, I was worrying myself to the point of tears over the lapse in training. Every day the Half inches closer and closer, and there I was back on the couch. I started to realize that I didn’t like the couch anymore, it’d been so long since I’d seen it! I prayed, asking God to keep me strong and to keep me from losing ground. I had my small group pray for me. I read Hebrews 12 over and over. And I rested. I found physical rest in my bed. I found mental and spiritual rest in Him who saved me.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.” Hbr 12:13

Two days ago was my first foray back into training since the stones; I walked just over 2 miles with a friend. Yesterday, Rebecca and I put feet to the pavement. WE CLOCKED 7.5 MILES in 2 hours and 45 minutes! We have to go almost double this distance in 5 hours or less. We’re not there yet – but we have come very far. And guess what?  We are not quitting.

“And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” Hbr 12:1

We have a long way to go and a short time to get there. With the encouragement of friends, commitment to this race that we’ve dug up from the depths, and mostly by the sheer Grace of God – we may just finish this thing!