Saturday, July 13, 2013

what did you expect?

“But here's the point: at times you may feel the hard things you're doing can't make a difference-- just like a solitary finger snap seems so quiet and one raindrop seems so insignificant. But when you have an entire generation snapping their fingers, when you have an entire generation being faithful in their spheres with their own gifts and opportunities...
Without any cue, the audience starts snapping their fingers, then patting their legs, then clapping, then stomping...
...and the single raindrops become a flood.” 
 Alex Harris

last week my three teenagers were in atlanta attending goldrush -- a youth conference our old church, perimeter, puts on for one week each summer -- and have been doing so for as long as i can remember. it's big. it's huge. some years drawing close to a 1000 kids from all over.

the thing which makes goldrush unique in the world of teen retreats is that it is a conference for teens, run by teens. they start planning an entire year in advance. don't get me wrong, the youth staff at the church works around the clock on this event and, of course, there are some parents who volunteer. but the essence of this conference is about putting teens up front -- up on stage speaking, teaching, sharing, performing and leading worship. teens are in charge of organizing and running the missions projects during the day and they are leading the small groups, prayer time and activities throughout the week. they spend months creating the theme, artwork, skits and even the t-shirts. during the conference, teens are setting up and cleaning up (yes, i just wrote teens are cleaning up!) and really what they are doing is rising up.

that's what happens in this hot july week in georgia -- teens rise up.

i bet there are a lot of people out there who hear that expression and grow immediately nervous. teens rising up -- oh heavens to betsy, no! everyone save yourself and run for the hills! right? i've heard what our culture has to say about the youth of today and most of it isn't all that encouraging. in fact, most of it makes my stomach hurt to hear.

maybe it's because i was a high school teacher and coach. maybe it's because i have always had some involvement with youth. maybe it's because i am currently a mom of 3 teens with 2 more heading in that direction. maybe it's because i loath phrases like "teens will be teens" or "boys will be boys."  but i'm not surprised at what these kids can accomplish. i'm not at all astounded by what happens when passionate teens call on the powerful name of Jesus.

i am not surprised, but i am blown away each year when i see how God uses these high school students in such a mighty and amazing way.

it's humbling.

it's encouraging.

let me tell you, it's something to see.

another cool thing about this week is that they let the old people come on in and hang out a bit. even though this is 100% about teens, parents are able to attend the evening sessions and hear the talk and take part in the worship. the over-forty crowd sits in the back and pretends to be invisible. they watch the students pour into "the hanger" (perimeter's teen place of worship). they wait for their own teen-child to come over and say hey, but wouldn't think of seeking them out in the midst of the hundreds. i've gone for years. i've gone and been moved well beyond the point of tears. to sit and listen to 17 and 18 year olds share their struggles and God's watch a band of teen musicians lead powerful and brilliant worship...and to watch hundreds of students with their hands and voices raised to God --- it really is something to see. some people might find all that noise and all those flashing lights and all those wild teen bodies jammed into one room kind of scary -- but i can't help but see it as a slice of heaven. teens praising Jesus. teens pouring out their hearts to Him. teens surrendering their young lives to God. i wish i could be hanging out with God at that moment to see His smile.

   when young people choose to bring God glory, it has to be especially sweet for our Lord.

why do we sit in our astonishment over what happens when kids rebel against the culture which excuses them and labels them with ridiculously low expectations?  i hear all the negative stuff said about this time period of adolescence and that's what i find most astonishing. i'm amazed to hear how little our society expects from its teens. i've heard enough talk about teenagers being teenagers to last me a lifetime. it's heartbreaking really. when i was teaching high school years ago, i even heard fellow teachers make negative comments about teens. i remember hearing one teacher nastily say to all of us at the lunch table, "well, what do you expect? -- they're teenagers." how sad to set up our youth for failure before they've even begun.

it's not a chicken-or-egg-kind-of-thing, folks. and it starts early. if we hold the bar high for our toddlers ...and keep holding it high for our teens...they will meet the standard. not perfectly. not always. but they will. why are we so quick to assume they can't handle something just because they are young? what better time to learn! as parents we might avoid conflict in our homes if we expect a little less, but conflict is one of the main ingredients needed to grow godly kids.  we forget that, don't we? iron sharpens iron. gritty sand polishes the pearl. fire refines the gold. why are we so afraid to set the bar high in our homes? why are we timid to expect much from our children, toddler or teen?

i'm not writing about making our kids perform higher,  i'm writing about making our kids passionate about reaching higher. wider. deeper.

our family got to be involved with goldrush even before we had anyone close to being a teen. because i had friends in high places (friends with high schoolers, acutallly) i got recruited many years ago to be a mission's driver for the week. i was told the only thing i had to do was show up and drive.  i wasn't responsible for anything else.  the teens would handle the project 100%. i kind of remember thinking, "yeah, right."  i had visions of myself having to organize small children and babysit tall teenagers. but that wasn't the case. those teens really were in charge. they did do everything. they even had a plan and supplies! the only thing i contributed was my vehicle and my driving ability. they had everything else under control.

one of the cool things about being involved back then was that i was able to bring along my young children. i can remember emily, tyler, sarah and even connor hanging out with these teens and ministering to children from the apartment complexes we visited. my kids played with the kids who came and something special took place. many of these children came from sad situations: broken homes or no one home. that was hard. it was hard to watch 2 and 3 year olds under the care of 4 and 5 year olds come to the playground with not an adult in sight. sometimes we'd set up in a pathetic park area and sometimes in filthy parking lots, but the kids would come. they'd come in droves. they'd come in groups. they'd come alone. they'd come with their neglect and their need. they'd come looking hungry for love. and i remember that first year watching these teenagers engage with the children. i'd watch as the little ones would crawl up on their laps or hold onto their hands. i'd watch the sidewalk chalk and the bubbles and the face paint and the sharing of Jesus in these dusty parking lots or decrepit playgrounds and i'd watch teenagers care about needy kids. i'd watch young ladies and young men rise up. talk about being blown away!

we weren't always in safe places or in clean places on these projects. i had to remind my kids a few times not to pick up broken glass and to be careful of the rusty screws on the old playground equipment. i remember one year when connor was just a little dude and i watched him from across the playground pick up an old coke bottle and put his lips to it. that might have caused some mothers to faint dead on the spot. i didn't faint, but i did remove the coke bottle quickly from the hands of my little guy. yuck! i'm sure someone might have suggested it wasn't the best thing for me to take my young kids to. maybe i should have left them at home in their suburban back yard eating popsicles and playing safely in shiny sprinkler with a nice sitter.  but i never once regretted this decision to involve my children -- not even when i watched connor put his lips on an old coke bottle!

this week, emily, tyler and sarah were serving and taking part in goldrush as teens.  i stayed home in minnesota. even though we live out of state, their attending this year was non-negotiable. they haven't missed a year from the time they turned teen. emily has been one of the mission project leaders for the past two years. she's been sending me pictures this week as she has been with the boys and girls clubs in atlanta each day. they'll be flying back to minnesota tomorrow and i can't wait to have them home and i can't wait to hear their stories.
can you find emily?  

i know we want a good life for our kids. we want them to be clean and orderly and safe and secure. we want them get good grades and go to good colleges. we want them to have nice friends and nice things. i get it. i'm right there in the thick of that desire, too.  i'm always battling the fact that my kids have too much...that their lives are too privileged. it's a crazy place to be. we're thankful for the blessings, but we also need the struggle. we need the fire to refine us. we need the grit to polish us. we need to put down our nice things and take up the hard stuff now and then. and i'm not talking about writing a check (though that is awesome too)! i'm talking about writing the stories and hurts of others all over our own lives. i'm talking about choosing to see something not so pretty and choosing to do something not so easy.

when we do everything in our power to make their lives soft and cushy and comfortable, how can we expect kids to have soft hearts for Jesus? when life is so, so sweet, how in the world will they see their bitter sin and need for Him? i worry about this.

as we raise our children we do our best to protect them from too much pain, but do we ever stop to think about protecting them from too much privilege?

don't ever be afraid to let your children do a little more than you think they can. they can! i'm all for safety and you know i'm in no way encouraging reckless parenting, but let your kids get dirty. let them dig into something different. let them see the needs of others and teach them how to meet these needs.

Jesus hung out with the least and the lost. the perfect Son of God was the ultimate example of rubbing elbows with things dangerous, dirty and desolate. he got his feet dusty. his hands messy. his clothing torn. He went home with the tax collector, ate dinner with the leper and had his feet washed with the tears of a harlot. Jesus wasn't afraid to love what the world had deemed unloveable...unworthy...unwanted.

oh. dear. Lord. i. am. preaching. to. myself!

why is this so difficult for us to understand? if we live in an over-privileged place, than we better realize we have a really hard job ahead of us. because how do we show our children who have everything their need for Jesus who is everything? if you get a chance, in fact,  go read the story about the rich young ruler (matthew 19).

if, as parents, all we do is provide and provide and provide where does our providing end and God's true provision begin?

these are hard things.

i'm not going to lie, this is a really hard thing for my husband and me. we've made the mistake of over-providing at least 1000 times already.

this past spring my 9th grade discipleship group of girls started reading the book do hard things by teen author's alex and brett harris. the harris twins' book "shares the revolutionary message ...desiring to give readers a tangible glimpse of what is possible for teens who actively resist cultural lies that limit their potential."  when they wrote this book at age 18, they had a vision to challenge the youth of today with doing hard things.  if you are heading into the teen arena anytime soon, i'd encourage you to read this book. teens, read to be inspired. adults, read to be reminded. our kids can do hard things. and we, as parents, need to be incredibly careful not to take these opportunities from them when we expect too little and provide too much.

sometimes the hard thing in our parenting is letting our kids do the hard things in their lives.

disclaimer:  before closing, i should probably admit that attending goldrush was not a hard thing for my kids this year.  they were going back to be with their very dearest friends. i have a feeling they would've gone back and dug ditches or chopped wood or feasted on worms just to be able to spend time with this group. i don't want to send any mixed messages in my words today.  serving can be hard...but serving can also be incredibly sweet.  and it was sweet for my kids this week.


a few photos from our time spent on GOLDRUSH mission projects over the years!

sarah being a trooper and allowing the kids to draw on her!

one of the mission's leaders sharing about God's love

em and a friend!

that's my tyler!

connor, a little older, and safely drinking clean water! no coke bottles to be found that day at the playground!


Aus said...

I hit an interesting thing - and one of the kids in your pic's reminded me - it's "I want" - fill in the blank with "my kids to be successful; "my kids to WANT to succeed"; and on an on....

But that's the thing - those are MY wants - what I need to do is modify that so that I WANT what my kids want...

And to do that requires trust and letting go...

And that's the "hard part" - well, one of many hard parts - of parenting!

Great insight - hugs -

aus and co.

Katy said...

Well Jody it's Katy Clark we just moved back to franklin tn home for us to give the children there family back it's different only been unpacking for two days but miss our friends are deep and wide bonds
But it is bittersweet as grandma drives the girls to get the haircuts and go to the pool it all is worth it