Growing up

Grown upMost kids I’ve ever been around are in a hurry to grow up.

They can’t wait to become independent.  To make their own decisions. To be the masters of their own destiny and the controllers of their future.  To pick their own clothes…their own hairstyles…their own menu…their own curfew. Kids generally can’t wait to get their freedom to go to the movies with friends…their driver’s license…their first job…their own apartment.

And ultimately, they grow up.  And they buy cars and houses. They get married and have kids.  They get more demanding jobs.

Then the reality of growing up hits.  With freedom, comes the dreaded “R” word: Responsibility.

School loans have to be paid off.  Better jobs require more time and energy.  Children get sick…and need to be fed and have new clothes.  Good marriages take time and effort. Lawns need to be mowed. Washing machines need to be fixed.  Cars need new timing belts. Houses need foundation repair. Accidents happen. Hospital visits are unavoidable.

And you can’t look around anymore and expect your mom and dad to take care of it.

Yup.  You’re a grown up now.

You are now the grown up you were in such a hurry to become.  You are now your own master. You are in charge. You answer to nobody and nobody tells you what to do. You pick. You choose. And adulthood is just what everybody told you it was going to be…but you never listened:  a mess of responsibility.

There has always been one big reason I loved doing youth ministry.  I got to spend my life with kids before they became adults.  I got to teach kids while they were still teachable.  I got to lead kids who needed to follow. I got to influence kids before they already knew everything.  I got to be with kids who accepted challenges, weren’t afraid of taking risks, still believed in the impossible, and were captured by the wonder of a God who really made a difference.

In short, I got to spend my life with people who had yet to be overwhelmed by responsibility, jaded by cynicism, controlled by finances and schedules, fractured by unhealthy relationships, and disappointed by God.

That’s why it has been so easy for me to invest in youth ministry again, for however long it gets to last.

So what has been the greatest joy of spending the past nine years focused on sharing my life with adults?  I finally figured out how to love and challenge responsible, overwhelmed, exhausted, controlling, masters of their own world: by helping them remember how to be kids again.

Duh.

And sometimes it even works.

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Oops…I did it again. Part 2.

Emoji - what was I thinkingIt’s not like this was a hard decision. Somebody had to do it. Hah!

Youth ministry is the only thing I have ever felt “called” to do in my life… as if anybody can define how that works!  I guess I would explain it this way: It’s the only thing I ever felt gifted or drawn to do with my life.

When I was a young man, these decisions and this journey had clarity and ease.  It made sense. I connected with kids and I cared about them. I cared about their dreams and their dramas…their struggles and their playbooks. More than anything, I wanted them to know God, live with an awareness of his presence, and choose to boldly embrace his kingdom.

For years and years, I never wavered in that priority for my life.  Even as a husband and a dad. As a pastor. As a teacher. As a counselor.  As a friend. As a mentor. Doing youth ministry always made sense to me. It all connected.

But when we moved to Texas years ago to work with kids, I found myself (again) in a situation where I needed to do more than just youth ministry…and for nearly 15 years, I was the youth minister who also preached every Sunday.  Man…those were some crazy years!

And something slowly happened.

I’m not necessarily proud of this, but in my nearly 40 years of youth ministry, I never really played very well with adults in the church, even as I slowly became one and ultimately got older than almost all of them.  That mess of honesty is for another blog post, btw.  I love kids.  I love their openness and willingness to be taught and challenged, to take risks, and to follow the words and example of Jesus as if he really mattered.  

But over the years here in Texas, two unexpected things happened.  

First, I found the church family where I belonged.  My closest friends have always known I was a square peg in a round hole.  I’m now at home in a square church.

In my head, I suppose I understand why people have chosen to leave my church family over these years…

We’re not big enough, spiritual enough, focused enough, deep enough, conservative enough, relevant enough, friendly enough, visionary enough, missional enough, mature enough, organized enough, committed enough, political enough, serious enough, influential enough.  There’s probably more.

For me?  Call me Goldilocks… “ahhh, this porridge is just right.”

Second, once I figured out I just needed to treat adults like big kids, I found my sweet spot as senior minister.  Look, there’s nobody in my church family who would ever mistakenly refer to me as dignified, but there are many who would call us “friends”.  And that’s as it should be.

So the dilemma is born.  I love my church family.  I love the adults.  I love the kids.  It’s a great dilemma to have.

Go ahead.  Hit the cray button.

Oops!…I did it again.

Emoji - what was I thinkingThings happen.

I didn’t plan for it.  Honest.  I thought it was part of my past. But here I am doing youth ministry again.  

I’m going to be 64 in a few months.  *smh*

A couple of months ago, I did my first overnight conference with 5th and 6th graders. High school kids are back at my house. Eating my food. Throwing foam footballs and (this time around), playing with my granddaughter’s toys that reside on the living room. I just got back from our spring break mission trip to Houston. Driving a van. Sleeping on an air mattress. Taking crap from high school snarks. I’m adding kid’s performances and games to my calendar, figuring out summer camp and conference schedules, and practicing new songs on my dusty guitar that I haven’t played in years.

…and trying not to forget my daily heart medicine and regular exercise on new metal knees.

I have no idea how this season of my life is going to play out.  Absolutely no clue.  I suppose it would be great if God decided to mic-drop the perfect new youth minister for our kids.  Boom.  I just know I don’t have any time to be out there looking.  And it’s taken all of four months for me to get deeply connected and super protective of this group under my care.

So for now, I’m back to life as it used to be for many years here in Texas: Preaching, leading a church family, and doing youth ministry.  I guess it’s not like I don’t have the resume’…  

Oh.  It’s definitely time to write again.  For me.  Let the therapy begin.

Parable of the guitar revisited. Again.

GuitarI’ve been preaching through the 10 Commandments this fall.  Tomorrow morning is number eight, “You shall not steal”.  I’ve been sitting here reminiscing about all the different things of mine that have been stolen over the years.

It made me remember one of the first blog posts I wrote eleven years ago.

I’m afraid it says way more about me than you probably want to know.  Read on…

I went to guitar center last night to peruse the best they had to offer. I’m such a wannabe guitar hack… While I was there, I thought about some former guitars I’ve owned.

Three different Ovation Custom Balladeers, a vintage Guild D4, a Takamine EG Series Cutaway, an Olympia OD5 made of white ash, and a Breedlove Discovery Concert Mahogany top… The first Ovation was stolen out of my car in the church parking lot before a Sunday evening service 29 (now 40) years ago. I replaced that Ovation with an identical one (after saving up for six months!). At the same church building, that guitar was stolen right out of a classroom during a youth group “all-nighter”…some kids let a guy in the building during the middle of the night and he bagged it.

Silly me, after saving up some more money (and some help from the youth group), I bought another Ovation and kept better care of this one. In 1989, I traded that one in on the vintage Guild D4 from a little “hole-in-the-wall” guitar shop. I had watched it for nearly a year and finally saved up enough money to go with my trade in.  No doubt, that was my favorite guitar I ever owned (complete with the deep, gouging scratch little Corey put on it with a screwdriver)…

The week before we moved to Texas in 1995, that guitar was stolen from the church we were serving in San Diego.  Some kids we were working with stole it during a Bible study and took it to a pawn shop for drug money. I didn’t have time to stick around to find it.  I always hoped it ultimately landed in the hands of a guitar player that appreciated it’s greatness.

When we moved to Texas, it took a little while to save up some more money, but after a few months, I purchased my Takamine.  Around 2000, a youth minister from another church group tried to steal it down on a Mexico mission trip.  No joke! Thanks to some stealth undercover work by my friend, Buzzy,  I got it back.  A couple of years later, though, the guitar was fully submerged in water when the tip of a tornado touched down in our camping area during a summer junior camp.  That guitar is still in use, but it sounds like I’m playing in a fish bowl…

I bought my Olympia guitar a few years down the road, and, guess what?  Some local downtown Lewisville hooligans broke into the North Point church building and stole it! A year or so after that, I purchased another guitar…a cool little low-end Breedlove that everybody always thinks is one of the sweetest sounding guitars they have ever heard….  Amazing.

The moral of this story?  Church is not a safe place.  Definitely not for guitars.  Sometimes not for people, either.

Dealing with parents who fail us, Part 3

HonorI’ll conclude with some lessons I have learned from a lifetime of helping people deal with the shortcomings and failures of their parents…

Parental abuse comes in a lot of different packages.  Certainly, physical and sexual abuse gets the most notoriety… and rightfully so.  But there are so many other ways.  Neglect. Intimidation.  Unrealistic expectations.  Belittling. Comparison.  Rejection.  Insults.  Unfair punishment.  Shaming.  Threatening. Withholding affection.  And so many more.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  One way children can show honor to their parents is by obeying them.  No doubt.  But obedience “in the Lord” is a huge qualifier.  I have come to believe God does not ask children to give their parents blind obedience, especially as they grow older. Parent’s demands must be consistent with the heart of God, if obedience is to be required.

When God wants one thing and your parents want something different, Jesus makes clear which master you should serve.  Man cannot serve two masters.  (Matthew 6:24)

Here are some other passages that help clarify the parent-child relationship:

“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for you have one father, and He is in heaven.”  Matthew 23:9

“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me …” Matthew 10:34-37

Harsh?  No doubt.  But the words of Jesus must inform our behavior.

There is a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  Forgiveness is when the offenses of the other person have been pardoned to the point we no longer desire harm or payback to the offender, but we can wish them well.  Forgiveness does not require reconciliation.  

Reconciliation is the restoring or rebuilding of a relationship.  Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation to begin, but that is only the starting point.  Reconciliation requires repentance and life change on the part of the offender.  Trust must be restored.  Safety is essential.  Reconciliation may or may not ever happen between an abusive parent and a child who has received abuse, although it should always remain the goal. 

It is still possible to love our abusers, but because it is not safe to be with them, sometimes protective walls must be put up.  It is always ok to say “no” to an abuser.  It is always ok to withdraw from, limit, or even end a relationship with an abuser, if necessary.  It is always ok to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the behaviors of an abuser.  Even if it is a parent.

As followers of Christ, he is always our example.  We should always be defined by kindness.  Grace and mercy must be our guide.  Compassion and understanding simply have to be the filters for justice, if forgiveness and reconciliation can ever take place.

Let the God of second chances rule in our hearts.

Dealing with parents who fail us, part 2.

HonorThe motivation for this series of posts came from my sermon yesterday.  As I prepared for preaching last week, I realized I was preaching to two entirely different groups of people.  The first were people who had grown up in a stable (or relatively stable) environment…where love and encouragement and healthy discipline and constant provision were present.

The second group was the one I was concerned about.

To bluntly state, “Honor your father and your mother” could possibly be words of callous disregard to the painful and abusive childhoods of so many of our North Point family members.  (From years of friendship and counseling, I know many of these stories.)

So I acknowledged the reality and have chosen to write some more about it here.  If you are that person…the one with parents who failed you…the one who struggles with the command to honor parents that left you with scars and memories of fear and trauma…these words are for you.

We who live in the 21st century were not present when Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets bearing the ten great commandments.  Written history leaves us longing for more information to help us understand exactly what must have been meant by the words, “Honor your father and your mother.”  Much is left to speculation.

The Hebrew word for “honor” has multiple definitions.  One of those definitions (which I think applies here) is “be heavy” or “weightiness”.  It’s easy to see that honor might have something to do with giving weight to or seeing and interacting with our parents with a level of seriousness…or recognizing that our parents, no matter what they are doing, are always playing a tremendously important role in our lives.

As we work toward health and healing, I believe that honoring parents does not mean we ignore or deny our past.  Rather, it implies we acknowledge the seriousness of the impact our parent’s behavior has played in shaping the person we have become…both good and bad.

And since we honor our parents by refusing to deny or ignore the role they have played in who we’ve become, it also means we must own our responses.

More thoughts to come…

Dealing with parents who fail us…

HonorLately, I’ve been preaching through the Ten Commandments.  This sacred list of God’s rules has been cherished by religious folks throughout history.  Numbers 1-3 lay the foundation for functioning in a God-centered society.  Number 4 appears to be specific to the Jewish culture (though some would challenge me on this).  Numbers 6-10 are pretty straightforward, common sense rules for living with others.  

But what do we do with number five?

“Honor your father and your mother.”  It seems so loving.  So simple.  And it is for many.

I grew up in a loving, nurturing home.  My parents loved and provided for me.  My father was a carpenter and he worked long, hard hours to provide a roof over my head and food on the table.  He played catch with me when I was young and seldom missed my games or performances.  My mom was my den mother, secretary of the PTA, and the maker of hot chocolate when I was sick.

My parents were active in our church family and raised me to believe in God, treat others kindly, and be generous with my money and belongings.  We trusted the Bible as God’s word and lived by the Golden Rule.

I was never mistreated, abused, neglected, or overpowered by my parents.  But I have known many who did not live such healthy and idyllic lives as children.  Many.

I married one of those.

Wanda grew up in a home much different from mine.  She is a survivor of abuse…psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual.  She is an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA).  She lived with unfairness, unpredictability, and fear.  There were certainly stretches of love and provision and nurture, but the abuse dominated and produced a foundation of insecurity, empty self-esteem, and fear of failure and rejection, that has taken a lifetime to overcome.

When we started dating at 15, I stepped into this chaos.  It was there I learned to be a “rescuer” and the repercussions of those early years of our relationship have lasted decades.  And not always in healthy ways!  It affected how we interacted with my parents.  It certainly shaped what our relationship was like with her parents and extended family.  It provided the backdrop of how we have related to each other for a lifetime, as well as how we raised our own kids.

Her family dynamic has clearly been felt for multiple generations.

Let’s just say that “honoring your father and your mother” has been a complicated command.

More to come…