Teens are our Favorite

Recently a friend, a brilliant, child prodigy grown up into adult genius friend, announced via social media that a teenager now lived at his house. He spoke the words with trepidation, perhaps even fear. A thirteen year old girl, it seems, has every ability to cripple even the brightest among us. Every parent of teens understands. We know the cold-blooded horror that can knock us to our knees when we consider the scary dark magic and sorcery that are the teen years.

I happen to have two of those mutants at my house. When my daughter was born at the turn of the millennium and my son followed eleven months later, my husband and I had two bone-chilling thoughts. First, they would be in college at the same time and we would be holding the tuition checkbook. Second, and almost immediately, we looked deeply into one another’s eyes and realized that we would be raising teens at the same time. We would be teaching driving, and dealing with snark, and thought to be complete idiots, and worry about rebellion for eight straight years with multiple children.

Before I head down the off-ramp of this post, it is important that you know that my kids are not perfect. They tell untruths. Nope, that is too cleaned up. They lie to us even though they get caught and the truth would be easier to tell. They are unkind to one another. They say things that cut painfully and push buttons with a sledgehammer. They are 100% teens with all the angst that entails.

And, they are at our favorite age so far. Hands down. We aren’t miracle workers or magicians, but we truly enjoy our children at fourteen and fifteen. And, here are our reasons.

1. They make us laugh.
Teenagers crave laughter—and ours are no exception. They bring us funny YouTube videos, share jokes that they hear, and are willing to be goofy to get a response. Our day is made better because of the shared giggles. Sometimes we have to smack their hands for the inappropriateness—but the chortles come later when we are away from the teenaged ears.

Humor is a big part of staying sane as we raise these two. Trash talk during inane video game tournaments (cow racing, anyone?), impressions of cartoon characters reading field trip permission slips, and groan-inducing puns pervade our lives. Of course, we found humor in the knock-knock jokes and the crazy sayings of their childhood, but the gift of raising teens is that their true sense of humor develops at exactly the moment that it saves their lives.

2. They are dorky and accept our dorkiness.
I love the times when our kids’ friends pile up in our living room. With teens, the only requirement is plenty of food. No need to rearrange the furniture to provide seats for everyone; they always end up piled up like Lincoln logs in one chair. By the way, the swap from plural to singular first person here is intentional. My amazing, patient, and fantastic husband becomes longsuffering the moment multiple teens walk into the house. Foolishness, for my ISTP truelove, has its limits.

Our daughter has a troupe of friends, “The Squadron” they call themselves. Recently, this amazing group of friends moved into the territory of rom-coms starring Meg Ryan, advice columns, and sitcoms involving a couch and Central Perk coffee. Yep, they began to split into couples. En masse, The Squadron headed out for Valentine’s Day. (This is kinda like watching a train wreck, isn’t it?) To a couple, they broke up within 48 hours with all the drama and anger and frustration of a death of romance. Fast forward to our living room, one week after Val Day and all of them are headed our way. This moment was a DefCon and required preparedness response. It begged for a movie where things blew up, harsh language was used, and a good Bruce Willis shot-in-the-arm. For us, it required Tom Clancy.

We knew we were going to be okay in real life as on-screen big, black Suburbans carried Morgan Freeman and other CIA-operatives through Siberia. “Why,” Squadron Leader 1 asked from her spot on the couch, “are they always Russian around?” “Well,” Squadron Leader 2 responded, “if you had Put-in the amount of work they have, you’d be in a hurry, too.” It got worse from there.

I was reminded that cool is over-rated. Dorkiness and cheesiness and bad puns and human pile ups and silliness and friendship will always win out over reserved swagger and detached bravado. No amount of popcorn and pizza would convince most adults to put their egos and hurt pride aside and just embrace the beauty of friendship. This group of friends did just that. Their lesson was not lost on me.

Nor was their advice. “Miss Sally,” Squadron Leader 5 said, “you would make a terrible CIA Operative. But, maybe they would let you be the diversion.”

3. They are going to change the world—and remind us to dream.
Our kids know with all the surety of the teen years that they will live amazing lives doing amazing things. They are dedicated to a mission on this earth that changes the world. No small pond will hold their big fish dreams of international mission work. No small living is acceptable.

There are folks who believe that our role as parents is to focus on our kids first and foremost. In no way do I want to belittle their thinking. That model works for their family. It doesn’t, however, work for ours. For us, the dreams that our children share are stoked by the dreams we feed in our own lives. We struggle and falter. We fail and regroup. We succumb to worry. Then we go back out into the world with our dreams of being the change we want to see firmly in place. Because our children are committed to improving the world and living out their divine purposes, we too are dreamers.

4. They don’t let us take ourselves—and our own angst—too seriously.
Once, in a fit of maternal rage, I barked orders to my children at a rapid pace and dared them to disagree. When I finished, I drew in a deep breath, adopted the timbre of the evil villain, and asked coldly, “Now. . . .do I understand myself?” It took about 20 seconds before I began to shake with laughter and soon my children were doing the same. It has become a catchphrase for those times when the world is tilting slightly to the chaotic side.

Don’t misunderstand. Our children are well aware of our expectations—and know that disrespect won’t be tolerated. We are not friends with our children. We love their future spouses, whoever they may be, way too much to let them get by with less than their best. We also know that our children remind us to not take ourselves too seriously. They point out our lapses in brain function. Because they live in the moment, they invite us to do the same. Past failures and future worries rarely exist in the teenage vocabulary. They remind us that being present matters—and to let go of the burdens we’ve carried too long. Besides, another hill on the roller coaster of parenting will strike within the next ten minutes. If we’re not living in the present, the hairpin turns will give us whiplash.

5. They remind us what matters—and make us defend our decisions.
Parenting can easily slip into constant battling with teens. It’s crucial that we choose our non-negotiable stances carefully. In our house, lying and disrespect are not tolerated. We value both teamwork and giving your best effort.

Because both of our children are super sharp arbitrators with keen legal minds and razor sharp sense of fairness, much negotiation is required. It is through these negotiations that we truly come to who we are as a family. Although WHY can make us crazy, it also makes us more sure of what we are saying.

Teen: Why can’t I go out with friends after church?

Parent: Because we value our comfort meal Sunday time as a family. It allows us to honor and celebrate each person on their chosen meal day. It gives us time to sit down together and it means a real meal is served.

At that point, conversation continued surrounding preserving what mattered with the meal and negotiating ways to include friends. In the end, everything stayed just as it was.

It is a gift to dig into what we value as individuals and as a family. Our teens provide us with reasons that we must do just that. Why does that matter? Because I said so!

Raising teens is not for the faint-hearted. It has been, however, our favorite part of our children’s lives. We are better people because of our teens, their friends, and their dreams. They make us a stronger couple. Why? Because we are in the foxhole together. They give us practice with loving unconditionally—and creative ways to set the wireless password when they are grounded. So far, cleanyourroomz, Areyoukiddingme, and pantsafire have been our favorites to reveal when punishments have ended. There are days when we don’t know that we’ll make it—and we’re definitely not positive that they will. We are, however, in it together. Not just as a couple, but with all the people “in the stands” for our teens cheering them on toward adulthood.

There are countless books and blogs about parenting. There is great advice on toddlers and school-age fears and issues. There are fewer blogs about the teen years. Some of the void comes from shell-shocked survival. Some of it is unwillingness to put on paper our kids at their weakest moments. This lack feels, all too often, like wishing years away. Like wanting to set our kids aside from age 11 to age 20 and get them back with full executive brain function. Doing that means missing the lessons they have to teach. It also means missing the laughs—with them, at them, and at ourselves as we raise them.

Cozying up to the Campfire

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Over the past years, I have given up coffee. . . so tired; cursing. . . $%!*?%# that was difficult; complaining. . .let me tell you about how little my kids try to work, how frustrating my husband is, or how much I loathe having cold feet. Over the past years, I’ve given up something for Lent like clockwork. During the time of struggle, I’ve found myself sharing more about the church calendar as I bit my tongue or refused the java. Even so, this year, I wonder if there is a better way.

The concept of a season of Lent is foreign to many, so let me see if I can capture it here. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, this year marked on February 18th, and denotes the forty days leading to Easter on April 5th. These weeks are set apart in deference to the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. The forty days are only counted Monday through Saturday because each Sunday is a mini-celebration as a little Easter. These mini-Easters remind us that our true, Christian day of celebration is coming. On Ash Wednesday, pastors and priests will impose the sign of the cross onto congregant’s foreheads made from the ashes of palm branches that were burned from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. My pastor will speak to me, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words are scripturally based from Genesis 3:19.

For many people, fasting (from all food, or specific things like coffee, colorful language, chocolates, sweets, Netflix) is the perfect way to lean closer to God. For many, it is the perfect way to prepare for the celebration that is coming on Easter Sunday.

For me, however, giving something up for Lent encroaches into the area of resolutions, and willpower, and independence, and personal drive. When I tiptoe into the areas of self-denial, I watch its uglier self show up in the form of self-importance. I know it’s all about God and leaning in to the strength that only He provides, as Jesus did in the wilderness. Yet, I find myself having thoughts of pride when I make it through a moment easily without turning to the temptation and thoughts of shame when I slip and find indulgence in exactly the thing that I am fasting. In the midst of this maelstrom, it becomes less about Jesus and more about me.

As an outspoken, independent woman, I turn frequently to the book of James for a guide to biblical living. In James 2:13, I read “Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.” (MSG) This Lenten season, I am extending that mercy to myself as I choose to bask in Jesus’ love. Right now, for me, Jesus’ love is best captured in the idea of a campfire. As I sit near the campfire, I know the warmth all the way to my bones. I soak in the heat to my innermost being—and, along the way, it heats up my skin and my clothing. Those around me are keenly aware that I have been near the fire as they feel the heat radiate from me.

At this moment, the people of my world need love to do just that. They need Christ’s love to radiate off of me in a way that is tangible. They need it to warm them just from the interaction, so that they too will seek out the source of the love. They need me to be set apart, hope-filled, joy-full, grace-bestowing in a way that is different from the ways of the world.

This year, the world both local and global needs me to pray for my enemies. The world needs me to have a well-spring of love to offer, a fountain of kindness and grace flowing from me, and a river of Christ’s contentment in my actions. For me, that means settling in close to the campfire that is Christ’s love. It means reading that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. It means studying Biblical heroes who were created for such a time as this. It means sharing with like-minded students until I can wrap my words around speaking that I am the disciple that Jesus loves. It means accepting others in their frailty—and replacing judgment with mercy. It means speaking the words of the theologian, Amy Poehler, “Good for her! Not for me,” instead of thinking that others need to think like me.

Honestly, it is when I bask in that knowledge of all that Christ has provided for me, how he chose me and loved me before I even knew him, and how I belong to him that I am most aware of the preparation for Easter. Through soaking up the love of Christ, I move closer to the cross. So, don’t mind me, I’ll be reading the book of John, learning more about my beliefs through the Apostles’ Creed, learning how Mary so ordered her life to sit at Christ’s feet, lighting a candle at our family table to pray for both the persecutors and the persecuted, and drinking my coffee while thanking God for long woolen socks.

Through soaking up the love of Christ, I move closer to the cross.

Soulful Saturday

Beginning, Saturday, February 6th, Frances will join No Ordinary Women in a weekly conversation that we are naming Soulful Saturday.

One of the greatest luxuries in life is a long conversation with a friend. When I was young enough to call a dorm room my home, I never realized the small window in which this luxury was housed. I pictured deep conversations of philosophy and theology and gender relations and relationships as always available. Then, life happened, and conversations turned to feeding schedules and dinner options, to laundry and exhaustion, to taxiing children and worry about teens, and the deep conversations seemed to flee out that shrinking window.

It takes a longer conversation to gain back the muscle memory for the deeper words. It takes a full pot of coffee. It takes a full bottle of wine. It takes an entire cheesecake shared among friends. As we take this time and talk of things beyond movies and sports and the activities of our children, we move from the physical connection of conversation to a soulful moment.

Our friend, Frances Cutshaw, understands these soulful moments well. She is skilled in being fully in the moment amid the flurry of being a wife and a mom and a pastor. She is skilled in taking the mundane and making it powerful. She is skilled at inviting each of us into the conversation.

Beginning, Saturday, February 6th, Frances will join No Ordinary Women in a weekly conversation that we are naming Soulful Saturday. Here, she invites us to brew that pot of coffee, pull up our most comfortable chair, stay in our jammies for a while longer, and re-open the window of conversation. Join us and join in.

Freeway: Launches February 7th

What is Freeway?

On Saturday, February 7th, No Ordinary Women will launch its first (Em)Course for EmPowerment and EmPurposement.  Many questions have come our way about Freeway.  Let’s start with some of the basics. The course starts the first Saturday in February at Begins February 7th at 10 am. Register now at the SHOP tab. 10 am with our friends at Blue Ridge Books on Main Street in Waynesville.  Freeway was created and is published by the amazing People of the Second Chance out of southern California. It is so phenomenal in transforming lives that it is the only pre-packaged course that made the cut for us at No Ordinary Women.

How do I sign up?

Head over to our SHOP tab and sign up through the website.  Materials must be ordered and shipped to us. Registration closes on Saturday, January 24th at midnight.  We are limiting this course to 20 amazing women, so please sign up quickly to secure your spot. http://www.noordinarywomen.org/?product_cat=courses

Why $30?

The course fee pays for all of your course materials, including workbook, journal, online resources, small group materials, and snacks!  (Honestly, it’s a $100 value before you even figure in the wealth of learning from fellow course members.)

Will I benefit from Freeway?

Here are some questions to determine whether you are a good fit for this (Em)Course.  As always, the more “yes” answers means the better fit.

  • Are you weary?
  • Do you long for real conversation where you can be your true self?
  • Do you long for sharing without fear of a vulnerability hangover?
  • Do you find yourself hunting for escape from life through Facebook, Buzzfeed quizzes, meaningless television, alcohol, or writing blogs?
  • Do you question your purpose and calling?
  • Underneath it all, do you find fear? Guilt?
  • Are you a felon? (Just making certain you’re still reading—of course, felons are welcome, too!)
  • Do you feel abandoned and worry that you’ve lost the ability to trust others?
  • Do you question why God would actually choose you?
  • Have you screwed up so much that you’re not sure you can be loved?
  • Are you trying to shed some pounds of guilt, lack, betrayal?
  • Does your inner voice keep telling you to be more? Be better?
  • Do you feel like you’ve just become stuck in the calm waters and feel a rut coming on?
  • Do you ever find yourself just going around in circles? Do you start out great and fizzle and come around again and, man this cycle is exhausting?
  • Do you just want a good cup of coffee on a comfy couch?
  • Are you afraid that real change only comes from being able to be still and focused enough to journal seven straight pages with multi-syllabic words on theology?
  • Do you long for someone just to listen without trying to fix anything?

Right now, stop and put your hand over your heart. Feel that. It’s your heartbeat. It means you are an alive human. And, it means you just answered “yes” to several of these questions. It means that Freeway was written for you. We’ll let those folks who have it all together get up and do laundry on Saturday mornings. The rest of us will gather together at Blue Ridge Books and get rid of those things that are holding us back from freedom.  Worried that you might miss a week?  We’ve got that covered. Stop what you are doing now and sign up through the web site.  I don’t use the word life-changing lightly, but I do use it for Freeway.

Begins February 7th at 10 am.  Register now at the SHOP tab.

Begins February 7th at 10 am.
Register now at the SHOP tab.

Celebrate Normal Times–Come On!

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith a new year comes new promises.  We promise to lose weight, stop smoking, cease threatening to ping our children with a frying pan (is that just a Southern mama thing?), keep a spit-shined house, run a marathon, be bigger, better, stronger.  POWER.

Not to belittle the great pop theologians, will.i.am and J-Beebs, but there is something inherently misplaced in our background research when we make these promises. The flip side of each one is a judgment that we are just all wrong.  A promise to lose weight, in and of itself, has no misgivings. It is a choice to live healthier and longer.  Except.

All too often it collapses under the density of shame.  Our resolutions, and promises, and commitments, and New Year; New You statements cause us to implode as we look at every pore of our lives through the highest magnifying lens available.  As we study the flaws and the creases, we begin to see us as only those past bad choices and future foibles. We see ourselves as unworthy.

God doesn’t give us that example.  Let’s travel together to the ORIGINAL New Year’s celebration.  In the first chapter of Genesis, God steps back from the work just finished and declares it good.  Seven times it is said. Like an incantation. Genesis 1:31 “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

Right now, you’re tapping your foot and waiting for an open moment so you can blurt, “But, I’m not God!  I eat too much peanut butter, and love guacamole, and threaten my children with frying pans, and listen to JUSTIN BIEBER.”  Absolutely, we are human and flawed and our moments of perfection unravel.  Which is why we need to tiptoe past the beauty in the creation of the Sabbath and the garden and intimacy over to Genesis 3.  No sooner had God spoken the beauty of intimacy for humanity than sin slithers in.  Within moments of reading, it all falls apart. Eve falls to temptation. Adam blames Eve. Childbirth becomes painful and hardwork becomes the norm; then Cain murders Abel!

Back in Genesis 1, God knew that these things were going to happen.  God knew that humans would mess the whole stinking thing up.  Paradise was created and beautiful—and then it was shattered.  I’m a science teacher by training, so I fall into counting billions of years between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 3:1. Those billions were to God, and to our reading, but like a blink of the eye.  Still, even knowing that it would be messed up, God gives us the example of declaring it good. . . repeatedly.

CelebrateLet’s start doing that. Let’s join together and celebrate the days. Let’s declare them good.  Even though we know that we didn’t finish everything on our to-do lists.  We didn’t lose 10 pounds in one day.  Our kids fought loudly and with venom over who had to say the blessing. Our best plans just unraveled.  Let’s step back and find the good.  Let’s celebrate the moment.  Let’s go into the celebration with full reveling.  I know a psychologist who calls for great cognac in these moments.  I have friends who reserve the best champagne for these times. In our home, these are the moments for homemade guacamole or breakfasts of cinnamon rolls. We serve them on a CelEbrAtE plate that is perfectly imperfect.  None of these are birthdays or anniversaries.  Let’s simply celebrate that it is Tuesday.  And Tuesdays are good.  Let’s celebrate that everyone is seated at a dinner table together.  And dinner is good.  If it’s a desperate day, celebrate that no siblings were murdered.  Take out the fine china. Walking through the front door is a reason for a high five, or a chest bump, or a full out secret society handshake with hip check.  Declare a dance party.  Create a midweek playlist and sing into a hairbrush.  Go old school and play a cd from the start to the finish.  Traipse on back to Genesis 2:31. Order up a piñata. It doesn’t matter what you choose, but choose to declare it as good.

When we take on the mantle of celebration—of declaring it good—we begin to make those important changes in our lives.  Our dedication to health doesn’t change when we feel shame. Our homes don’t straighten up when we’re wondering, “Who lives like this?” We move toward our best selves when we focus on the growth, the success, and the celebration.  As Genesis teaches us, that celebration is when we’re created anew.