5 Phrases They NEED To Hear (But Often Don’t!)

23 08 2010

No matter what you do, I won’t give up on you.

To me, it’s hard to believe that my students would ever think that I would give up on them—but when I really think about it, I can think of plenty of adults that I looked up to and trusted who did give up on me. Some of the adults I looked up to most in high school stopped talking to me entirely—I mean, wouldn’t even acknowledge me at graduation—after a silly prank I pulled as a senior. I was so devastated that it took years for me to get over that rejection.

Adults who influence for a weekend, a few months, or even a year are a dime a dozen. People who are passionate about students, invested in them in the long run, and who are willing to love fiercely—even when those kids they love so much screw up—are a rare breed.

But they’re life changers, I think—and I’ve been privileged to work with many of them in the last few years. They are truly shaping the entire future of the kids they’re invested in, and allowing God to literally speak through them to these kids—and as a program director, there’s nothing more inspiring than that.

I expect more from you.

As strange as it sounds, it was an epiphany to me when I first realized that I could set my own expectations and standards for my students. And believe me, up until that point, it was my biggest struggle in ministry. I used to think to myself, “How can I expect things out of kids when they aren’t given the same standards at home? Isn’t that unfair? Just because I was raised with high standards doesn’t mean that I should impose that on other people’s kids—right?”

In the real world, though, I quickly realized that kids need standards. Everything they do, in fact, is an attempt to find out where I stand on every issue. And, their constant nagging is simply a way to find out how firmly I stand on things.

Kids—especially middle schoolers—are adaptable. They quickly figure out what adults expect a lot out of them, and respect those adults in their lives much more than those who don’t expect anything out of them at all.

My students would likely all tell you that I have high standards, and that I expect a lot out of them. And, several of them would probably be able to tell you when I’ve had a stern but loving talk with them about how I do expect more from them as young Christians. I’ve always been upfront with my kids, clearly telling them that if I catch them swearing on Facebook, for instance, I’ll call them on it. And I do. That’s my standard—and kids respect that.

In fact, they strive to live up to it. Within my standards, too, I always strive to teach students life skills. To me, everything is a learning opportunity—a chance for growth. For instance, I’ve demanded that every young man remove his hat while praying. Unnecessary? Maybe. But a teachable moment about the respect and reverence we should have towards our Creator? Definitely.

It’s ok to wrestle with God.

The first time I ever said this to a group of kids, it was when I was a college student stepping in at the last-minute to lead a weekend retreat with a bunch of middle schoolers. I hardly knew the kids, but connected with them well. So well, in fact, that we ended up cramming all 11 of us into a hotel room that night to talk about the day.

As the kids talked, I began to notice a common thread—they were all wrestling with doubts about God, but skirting around the issue. It was like they just couldn’t admit that they did have those thoughts.

When I finally blurted out, “You guys are human! You’re grabbing onto your own faith and understanding it as teenagers now, stepping away from the faith that your parents have thus far raised you in—you should have doubts and be wrestling with these issues if you’re actually thinking about this stuff seriously!”, a sigh of relief literally went through the room.

A whole new, deeper level of conversation started—one that went beyond the “right answers” to brutal honesty that actually impacted these kids. I’ve moved half a country away from these particular kids, but they still remember that night and talk about it with their youth pastor often.

I think the story of Jacob wrestling with God is one that all teenagers need to hear. They need to be told that they’re not going to hell just because they’re questioning and wondering. We’re all sinful, imperfect people, and we all experience doubts from time to time—but how crafty is Satan, to sneak in there and pry these kids away from their faith entirely by convincing them that their questions about God make them unworthy of His love?

(Answer: very crafty!)

Sometimes I think that maybe my only purpose for being on this earth is to comfort those kids who are struggling so painfully with this issue–and have been stressed and guilty and overcome with shame for years because no one’s ever told them this before.

Because, at the end of their questions and doubts, stands a God who outlasts every query.

You can trust me–really.

People constantly open up to me. I don’t know if that means I’m a nosy person, a good listener, or just have a knack for being approachable…but whatever it is, it happens all the time. I’ve been in grocery stores, talking to random people, and have had them telling me their life stories. And usually, people confide in me so deeply that at some point, they suddenly reel back and say, “Oh my goodness! You can’t ever tell anyone else that I said that!”

Kids, especially, tell me all sorts of things they don’t want others to know. I’m more trustworthy than their peers, I suppose—but still close enough to them that I’m not a total stranger. They know that I won’t promise them blind trust—I would have to seek professional help and connect with their parents if I found out that they were severely depressed, anorexic, or suicidal, for instance.

But what they constantly want to know is how trustworthy I am with their day-to-day confessions. I need to remind them that I do keep my mouth shut—and that I would always inform them if I ever were to share anything confidential with anyone else.

I don’t like your behavior, but I still love you.

I learned this little nugget as a resident assistant in college. It was simply incredible what a difference it made to the students I was disciplining—keep in mind, those students were my peers.

You learn fast how to avoid making an entire student body angry with you when you bust up one of the biggest sophomore parties of the year, believe me.

Explaining to people that while I didn’t like their behavior or the choices they made but I still cared about and wanted a relationship with them was the dealmaker. It seems like an almost unnecessary thing to say–but simply saying it makes all the difference in the world. And it does make a difference to kids, too, on the occasion that I do need to discipline them.


Jesus Really Loves HIM?!

30 03 2010

I’m pretty sure that Jesus told us to “love your neighbor as yourself” because he knew that 2,000 years in the future, people like me would be living in apartment complexes.

When we moved to Oakville, Tyler and I purposely picked an apartment on the top floor to ensure that we wouldn’t hear, see, or smell our neighbors (despite the fact that we’ve always gotten along well with all of our other neighbors, even hanging out on the weekends with them at our last apartment). We not only moved an entire apartment full of furniture up the grueling three flights of stairs and potty-trained a puppy in the middle of winter on those same slick steps, but we also daily haul our groceries and mail up and down those stairs.

Worth the sacrifice? Yes. We can’t hear anyone else clomping around above us. We can’t hear our neighbors blasting their music at ten o’clock. We don’t have to suffer through the irritation of hearing squeaky laundry machine early in the morning.

Until Mr. Burn-Out arrived.

Nothing, to my knowledge, has ever gotten both of us more steamed than Mr. Burn-Out.

Mr. Burn-Out, if you haven’t guessed, is our downstairs neighbor. He’s a chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, screamo-music-blasting, unemployed twenty-something. He lets his trash pile up outside his door daily. He blasts his music and Playstation at full volume after midnight on week nights. He goes nowhere and seemingly has no friends, which means he has more time to stand outside on his porch and smoke unfiltered cigarettes all day and all night, while using his deck as a platform for hacking up phlegm and spitting it into the bushes below.

The most irritating thing about this guy is that he just doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Despite the fact that all of the neighbors in our complex have their windows fully open on a beautiful day and obviously slam them shut when he steps out on his porch to smoke, he hasn’t changed his smoking pattern. He smokes religiously, every twenty minutes. All day. All night. Every day. And that smoke drifts right up to our porch and windows, filling our entire apartment with noxious fumes.

Thanks to Mr. Burn-Out, we can’t sit outside on our porch for more than twenty minutes at a time without gagging on his smoke. We have to constantly monitor the clock and quickly stop whatever we’re doing to jump up and frantically shut all of the windows before his fumes pour in and stink up our apartment.

For a while this fall, we just gave up. We just suffered through it, letting the smoke swirl around inside our home. Until I discovered that our clothes reeked of smoke for days afterwards.

Tyler and I have both reported him several times, when he’s blasted his music past midnight. He hasn’t changed. We’ve both talked to the apartment manager regarding his irritating smoking habit. Their response? “We have an apartment open on the first floor, if you’d like to move.”

Right. Why wouldn’t we want to drag all of our stuff down three floors and set up in a new place?

Instead, we’ve pacified ourselves with things we could do to drive the message home to him that we’re hopping mad. Some of our thoughts include buying a gigantic, industrial-sized fan and laying it facedown on the porch. Whenever he lights up, we turn the fan on and blast his toxic smoke back to him. We also played with the possibility of buying him an electric water vapor cigarette. And then spelling out “YOU’RE KILLING YOURSELF–AND US” in cigarette gum on his front door.

I know, I know. I’m not loving my neighbor. I should. But I can’t.

We all have our sinful side, don’t we?

What’s truly amazing to me is that Jesus loves Mr. Burn-Out. Dearly.

And if I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I should try to love him, too.

Jesus is just darn lucky that cigarettes weren’t invented yet when He walked the earth. If they were, he might’ve changed his command from “Love your neighbor as yourself” to “Love your neighbor, provided he’s not a chain-smoking blockhead with an ugly tattoo and Halloween decorations up on his porch in March.”

Ok. So Jesus is obviously perfect, while I am clearly not.

It sure is hard to change my stubborn heart. And thank God, He understands that…and forgives me, too.

Attack of the Saber-Tooth Puppy

7 10 2009

TuckerMy birthday was last weekend, and I had the unusual luxury of a wide open, obligations-free weekend to savor. I decided to treat myself by sleeping in late on Saturday…which was only possible in theory, as we have a 3-month-old puppy named Tucker who has proven time and time again that he has hardly any bladder control whatsoever.

At about 9:00 am, I heard the doorbell ring. We live on the third floor of an apartment complex, so we hardly ever get any souls brave enough to climb three stories of flaky wooden steps to visit us on a whim. My husband opened the door to find the UPS man standing on the stoop with a package.

To my delight, I found that this package was a birthday gift from my brother, who’s still out in college in Southern California. The last time I was out there hanging out with him, he took me to a great cupcake café—which was the highlight of my week there. Remembering my fondness for the cupcakes, he overnighted me a box of fresh cupcakes to enjoy on my birthday weekend. And, thoughtfully, he included two tiny dog cupcakes for Bonzer and Tucker.

I carefully unwrapped the tiny frosted cupcakes and set them on a silver-edged platter for the dogs to enjoy. And that’s when the chaos started.

Bonzer, the older dog, is a picky eater. He refuses to even lick anything until he has thoroughly sniffed and examined it. Not so with Tucker. Tucker bites down and swallows things before he even has time to decide if he likes it or not.

Tucker launched on the plate, grabbed a cupcake, and retreated under the couch. Bonzer delicately picked at the edge of the frosting with his teeth, and in watching him I realized I had forgotten to take the paper wrapper off of the cupcake. Since I knew I had about half a second before Tucker wolfed his down, I reached under the couch to grab the cupcake from Tucker.

Bad decision.

Tucker saw me coming and braced himself against the furthest corner of the couch. That should’ve been my first clue. He then shoved the entire cupcake in his mouth in a desperate attempt to swallow it whole—before I could steal his prize–and promptly started choking. I frantically shoved my fingers inside his mouth to try to pry the cupcake from his little teeth.

Sensing that I was about to take his food, he chomped down on my thumb with all his might. I yelped and pulled my fingers out, to see two bloody, gaping wounds (ok, they were really small punctures) in my thumb. I angrily tried again—this time with my left hand—but Tucker had taken advantage of that split-second and had already swallowed the cupcake.

I sat back, a bag of mixed emotions—one part marveling that he could eat that quickly and not die trying to swallow something arguably bigger than his brain, the other part angrier than I’ve ever been at this ungrateful puppy.

How could Tucker not realize that I was just trying to help him? All I’ve ever done for him has been out of total love….the hours and hours of walks, patiently standing out in the pouring rain while he relieves himself….trips to get fresh kiddie cups of ice cream for him to savor….hours of cuddling him, brushing his teeth, trimming his toenails, giving him treats, taking him on car rides….how could he be so ungrateful to someone who has only treated him with love?

It didn’t hit me for a few days, but when it did, it hit me like a ton of bricks:

What has my attitude towards God been? I’ve been no different than Tucker.

I too have been totally wrapped up in myself, ignoring the many gifts that God has given me. I’ve taken His love for granted, selfishly gobbling it out of His very hand and cramming it down my own throat without as much as a “thank you” to the One who offered it to me in the first place. In frustrating and challenging times, I haven’t always trusted that God will carry me through because of His unfailing love. I haven’t seen that everything God does for me is out of tender concern and unconditional love.

Thank goodness for that everlasting, unlimited forgiveness He offers me.

Ephesians 1:7: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace…”

Who knew that a profound truth about humankind lay hidden in the story of a vicious, saber-tooth puppy?