Desensitize My Kids?!

Throwback Thursday from 5/8/2013

I was participating in a women’s prayer meeting at a church where I was relatively new. Until that day, I regularly offered prayer for others, but rarely requested any for myself. As my children began Middle School, I realized that it would take the proverbial village to protect my kids from the stunning corruption widespread among American youth.

That morning I mustered up the courage to ask for prayer that my kids would not grow desensitized, but remain kindhearted despite the shocking revelations that they are eventually exposed to at that age. I had recently confirmed for them that, “Yes, one German man and his team of assassins murdered multiple millions of people. Yes, Edgar Allen Poe’s writings are disgusting and disturbing. Yes, several men flew airplanes into buildings wanting to kill Americans.” The Holocaust, 9/11, and murder-filled literature, were upsetting to my 11-year old twins. They had also experienced their first pains of meanness from other kids.

Relieved that I had asked the women to lift up my kids in prayer, I experienced a temporary feeling of peace about the changes that Middle School had brought.

Pushing in my chair to leave, a 50-something, confident woman approached me. I expected her to confirm her intent to pray on my behalf. Instead, she blurted, “Your kids need to get desensitized.” Huh? I was confused, slight angry, and embarrassment rose up in my cheeks. Noticing my facial contortions, she offered, “I retired early last year, having been a Middle School Principal for many years.”

I stared at her without response.

“It’s just that the world is a terrible place and kids are awful. Your kids need to be desensitized or everything is going to bother them.”

Finding my tongue, I retorted, “not everything is going to bother them, but injustice, prejudice, and blatant violence against others should trouble them. I don’t want them to ignore or walk away from such things. I want them to be responsive toward others.”

She smiled at me in a condescending way, patted my hand and said, “Well, I’m just telling you from experience that it’s better if they get desensitized.”

My mind was outraged and my feelings hurt. I had expended terrific effort to train three kids to care. I was not about to conform to the ways of this world in a lazy, irresponsible effort to create more zombies. All that came to mind at that moment was the group of teens who watched, cheered, videotaped and photographed the brutal beating of one of their “friends”. Then, they uploaded the unconscionable horror to YouTube. While I know that level of degeneracy is rare, the day to day lack of sensitivity is rampant in Middle Schools and High Schools across the nation.

One of the great battles for Christians (unless they are the sort who cut themselves off from contemporary life) is to remain kind when they’ve had a string of wrongs hurt them over the years. In addition to the unforeseen events like earthquakes, hurricanes, and illness, we unfortunately also endure heart trauma by the entirely avoidable meanness of others. It is natural to grow hardened.

All humans make big mistakes and bad decisions. We err and say hurtful things. The difference between desensitized and remaining sensitive, is remorse. The desensitized person doesn’t experience regret, sorrow or repentance. There is no reflecting or pondering or consideration of the consequences.

Despite the bad advice of the retired principal, I choose to continue the hard work of raising three human beings who care. My intent isn’t to shield them. I encourage “speaking up”, even to those in authority, when appropriate. All of my kids play competitive travel sports and are not ones to shrink back from conflict when necessary.

They are acutely aware of the world’s evil, feel sad when they are treated unjustly, but always move forward strong and confident. I’ll never believe that desensitizing children so they feel little, if any, compassion, is wise or responsible parenting.

 

 

Trouble Will Come. Why Am I Surprised?

“In the world you’ll have trouble.” John 16:33

Many people draw closer to God when trouble comes. I tend to step back, surprised by it. As if I should somehow be immune. I am a passionate prayer partner for others, but struggle when it’s personal. While I lean into God for the big stuff, I can seriously fuss and step back over the smallest of “troubles”.

“…do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

My teenager lied. Big time. But about something ridiculous. It hurt no one, nor involved anyone. The extension of a lie from months ago when we knew it, but couldn’t prove it; then unexpectedly, I caught him mid-sentence lying. I was stunned. Did I not just five minutes earlier finish reading seven glowing, all incredibly-l o n g letters of recommendation, with more on their way, for college applications later this year? Weren’t the words still in bubble comments floating through my head including “gentleman” “the finest student I’ve ever had” “respectful” “sincere” “nice to all fellow students”…and more?

All of those things are true. This 17 year old boy stands out from other kids his age because he is sensitive, smart, athletic, and thoughtful.

He is also human. But I forget that and immediately launch into crazy woman in my personal pain, feeling like a failure of a mother, wondering what I did wrong to have this child lie, hiding it for months – nonetheless about something completely inconsequential.

I wonder: do I give him room to be human? Or was I too quick with, “be sure your sin will find you out!”? I sure didn’t take two seconds to consider that I too am a liar, having been a lying teenager back in the dark ages when I was one. But! I protest silently, I’m raising them better, pray more… why, God?

It got worse. Another issue came up just as I was calming down. Nothing to do with drugs or alcohol or the usual teen nonsense. It hurt no one. Still, it wasn’t good and I was sad, and mad, and surprised – again. I considered how many days while he was at school I prayed specifically for him. And, now? His mistake – I take it personally.

“Children will lie at one time or another. The question is not if they will, but whether or not lying will become something they believe they can get away with.” Stormie Omartian

We deliver the consequence, days pass, and all I can think of is the prayer that went into this boy. I am mad at God for not responding as I had planned. I do not spend a second focusing on my son’s good or God’s good. No time thinking about the volunteering my boy does, the love he shows…that this wasn’t earth-shattering. I take no time to consider that this is part of teenage life and I am acting completely irrational. My husband tries to talk me down from the cliff, but I don’t listen. I do not consider that my daughters and my son are observing how I handle these two disappointments. I blame God silently. He could have prevented my son from lying by giving him a more truthful heart. Hadn’t I directly prayed for that?

Just then, I remember that 48 hours prior to the lie being discovered, I asked God – literally asked Him out loud – to reveal to me if my son was lying. I was tipped off by a sister in the house that there may be a lie lurking…

Okay, so maybe that prayer was answered. Directly. Prompter than most.

I settle, but continue to berate myself for subconsciously holding them to an unrealistic standard that I don’t even live up to. I berate myself for being so foolish to think that somehow my kids would be “good” 100% of the time. But oh, there is so much good. I refuse to see it. I focus on the two bad things revealed within two days.

My husband grows increasingly weary with the looming, likely job loss. We will be fine, but it’s still hard. He’s tired. So much change at work. Then, he comes home to the lunatic wife freaking out about her teenager lying. Not letting it go. He bows his head and rubs his temples and I see that I’m no Proverbs 31 woman lately.

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!“ Acts 7:51

Then, a 5-year old boy dies a horrible death and godly parents are in pain and we attend the memorial and my 15-year old is in mourning. She only held him at church a few times on Sunday mornings. But she knows her God and she knows He is bigger than childhood cancer and she believed Him to heal on this side of heaven. And, He didn’t. And the girl grieves like nothing I’ve seen from her. She shies away from her daily devotion and prayer time. She questions deeper than most adults. Because she cares and loves Him. She’s hurt – for herself, for the family. I watch her break down on and off and see her wrestling with God, questioning the value of intercessory prayer. I spout out the usual Christian-ease statements like, “we pray because Jesus did”. Ugh. I can’t even stand my hypocrisy as I’m mad again – mad that my baby girl is struggling with her faith. Mad at God that He still lets Satan prowl. I refuse to see that this could possibly strengthen her faith.

My friend learns that her cancer is at stage 4. I weep. He can heal this.

Another friend with a threatening ex-husband must fearfully attend court. Again. He could put this man in jail once and for all.

“The question is not: “Will you and I have these moments of loss and dizzying confusion?” The real issue is: How will we respond to these inevitable and unavoidable moments?” Ann Voskamp

I reach for my gratitude journal (see my last post) and the numbers name the “hard eucharisteo”. The tip of the pen pierces the page as my jaw clenches. No sweet sentiments about the Mama bird and her eggs that I’ve been watching and photographing daily…

My anger melts into a silent protest. I do not pick up my bible or pray formally at the morning table. I am talking to Him throughout the day, but mostly firing out questions at Him, simultaneously sorrowful over my blasphemy. He pulls at me.

“I will never leave you…” Hebrews 13:5
Ugh, but why? I’m awful right now and You’re still pulling at me?

I tire of the anger stretch, of the two-days of sobs for the grieving family, the teenage mistakes, the friends in pain, that leave the forehead ache that no aspirin can remedy. I am indifferent to prayer. What for? He pulls at me still. I scour the bookshelf and revisit, “Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?” by Philip Yancey.

I read, then skim, knowing that He is Him and I am not and I am feeling sorrowful. Much sin is our own fault. We live in a fallen world, disease entered with the first bite of the fruit and so on… Above all, some of the gut-wrenching sadness and tragedy is undeniably inexplicable on this side of heaven.

The next morning I can’t help myself. I reach for the Word, sit at the kitchen table after lunches are made and kids are finishing up their grooming for school. I don’t ask them to sit and get a blessing like I usually do.

They leave and I squirm in the seat like my own son did three weeks ago. I know better, practicing faith and living it throughout the days, but not in my personal disappointments. I believed that the prayer prevented (and still do), but free will and God’s will are very much alive. Good can, and often does, arise from the ashes. Is 61:3

And I quiet enough to learn lessons that really, I already know…

ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I am CHIEF among sinners.

Open the fist of control! There is free will and teenagers need to exercise it.

Surrender the near-adults to His care. For heaven’s sake: TRUST ME ALREADY.

Mistakes are a part of living. They are not all-encompassing of my parenting, my family, nor my teen.

Stop over-reacting. Oh Lord, forgive me! May the fruits of the spirit show up in the unwanted “surprising” moments.

Stop being surprised. Trouble will come.

 

Normal Is Good

After a fitful sleep last Thursday night, I stumbled into the bathroom half-awake on Friday morning. Going through my regular routine, I held a cotton ball in my hand, ready to use toner on my face. Just before I dunked the cotton ball, my eyes caught sight of the label: “nail polish remover”! My daughter left the remover on the counter and I was about to use it as face toner! How I didn’t notice the smell is bewildering and perhaps I will ponder that more later.

It has been that kind of week. My youngest daughter broke her wrist. My husband’s company was unexpectedly sold to an international corporation, and he is confident that the current staff will be released. On the exact same day, the 4-year college where I’ve taught for nearly 17 years closed the graduate program where I most often instruct due to decreased enrollment. We had an aging-parent issue and three more less-significant, yet unforeseen, mind-boggling, and massively time consuming happenings. It’s been the kind of week that when anyone’s cell phone rang, we all stared at each other wide-eyed, reluctant to answer!

While I thrive on routine and tend to grow unproductive without it, I’m also the first to complain about my life being ordinary. I won’t usually grumble out loud about how boring my routine is (except on this blog ;), but I definitely complain so enthusiastically in my mind that my face contorts until one of my kids asks, “What’s wrong, Mom?”

One thing I can count on is that my life is “normal”. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, driving, driving, driving, encouraging the kids, sitting at the kitchen table pretending that I’m actually helping with Algebra homework…

Some routine prevailed through the unexpected chaos last week, but life wasn’t normal. How distracted were we from our “normal” behavior? Here are a few examples:

  • My husband lost his cell phone somewhere between two geographically separate meetings. Retracing his steps after returning to the original meeting location, he miraculously found his phone, under a pickup truck, in the snow.
  • Later in the week, after returning home from work, he couldn’t find his wallet. Just as I lifted the phone to begin canceling credit cards, he found it in the kitchen garbage. Apparently, he threw out a few things from his car and dropped the wallet in with them! This is a man who has a well-deserved reputation for being organized and certainly not the type to ever lose anything!
  • I filled the entire fabric softener section of my washer with a ridiculous amount of detergent. That load required a double wash.
  • I put the peanut butter in the fridge, the jam in the cupboard, and the television remote in the bread drawer. It took us hours to find the remote.

Every single day right into the weekend held something unexpected and unpleasant. Doing dishes, ten loads of laundry and cleaning the kitchen floor would have been a pleasure compared to the situations that kept demanding my time and exhausting me emotionally. After a wild week, I needed normal.

God reminded me to be thankful for the normal days when not-normal kept coming at us. As we dealt with our own little swarm of craziness, far graver concerns emerged through prayer requests over a three day span. Not that they are ever minor issues, but the depth and scope of imminent heartbreak filled the sudden influx of requests.

As I wept over a few souls who desperately need a miracle from God, I felt the heat of embarrassment rise up in my cheeks at the very thought of rolling my eyes about cleaning toilets on a regular weekday. I am blessed to do the chores and make meals for my family…every day.  I was reminded through the bedlam that “normal” – blesses kids (and adults) of all ages. Families need routine and are secure when they know what to expect.

You know what? The company that purchased my husband’s employer will provide a several-months’ severance package. I am teaching online and will freelance until God grants me a new employer. My daughter’s fall on her wrist could have been so much worse. Our life is slowly returning to normal this week while others are experiencing life altering circumstances where normal will never be the same again.

The next time I feel the need to break routine when the monotony of life feels stifling, I think I’ll stand on my head for a minute (I’m no yogini so I’ll lean against the living room wall of course). I’d rather “leave normal” on my own terms the next time I start silently grumbling how bored I am.

I’m going to praise God that while life is unpredictable, He’s still on the throne and “normal” is darn good.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.

Prayer at the Pole and Courageous Teens

photo: everyschool.com
photo: everyschool.com

Today is national See You at the Pole Day, where students, faculty, staff, and parents are welcome to meet and pray around their school flag pole.  Our family attended at 7am EST this morning and I’m confident that praying out loud in our small circle will be the most important thing I will have done with my day.

Unlike past years when I’ve held hands with my children, their friends, and teachers at our public school, today felt different.  Although our schools are in a very lovely, exceptionally safe suburb, safety was on the mind of more than a few. With the escalating violence against Christians, some kids wondered about their safety standing in the open public, outdoors, in the view of all.

Any public expression of faith for a teenager often heightens their anxiety.  Publicly standing for God in an increasingly unpredictable world where good is too often rewarded with evil, takes COURAGE.

I praise our Father this morning for the courageous teens who – whether dragged out of their beds early by their parents this morning – or by their own free willingness to attend, boldly stood for Jesus. Who, by their very physical presence in simply “showing up” spoke louder than any words could to their fellow classmates.

Our gathering was small this morning, but mighty in His Name.