This blog is a shout out to the teens in my youth group. They are amazing! They continually impress me with their hearts to serve and their love of Jesus. Whether to pray together, play together, or serve others, they choose to spend their free time week after week in positive ways.
MBC Youth…you ROCK!!
Last weekend, they fed the homeless in Richmond.
They pray unashamedly and publicly.
Competition gets fierce!
Helping others makes them happy.
Worship is an important part of their lives.
I love all of you! Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the best youth group around. Anyone who believes teens are lazy, uncaring, and/or disconnected needs to come spend a few hours with you.
Recently, I planned to begin a new novel unit with my students, which always leads to a question:
What should we read?
Many people probably think it’s not a big deal, choosing a novel. Just pick one, right? There are so many available even when you narrow it down to books appropriate for my eighth grade students. It should be simple to pick something that would interest the majority of the students. (I’m not naive enough to think I’ll ever interest all of them.)
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Every year I have to consider what my students’ lives entail. While some students might benefit from reading about someone else sharing their problems, others might feel overwhelmed having to face such personal issues in the school setting. It’s a fine line to tiptoe, wanting to take advantage of literature without causing distress for my students.
A novel that focuses on the theme of survival from abuse or neglect? Some years I can’t teach it because of the level of abuse a current student may have endured.
A teenage character whose father is an alcoholic? Maybe not a good choice.
Murder? I’ve even had to make my decision based on that.
Suicide? Always a touchy subject for this age.
In addition to the emotional issues, I have to weigh the religious, racial, and political climate of my students and their families. Will a parent feel as if I’m trying to shove my beliefs down their child’s throat if I teach a novel with Christian characters? They might though I doubt if we read something with Jewish characters anyone would think I’m trying to convert the kids to Judaism.
The factors to consider are endless. The novel I’m currently teaching was a last-minute choice based on a conversation I had with the guidance counselor. A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer was not a good choice for this year, so we’re reading I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier instead. (If someone in my class is in witness protection, there is no way for me to be aware of it, so I’m hoping it’s a safe choice.)
Obviously, trying to choose which novel to read pales in comparison to the horrifying situations in my students’ lives. I hate that I have to consider issues such as abuse and suicide. I repeatedly count my blessings and those of my whole family knowing what these young adults deal with every day. I pray they can all rise above the trauma in their lives and find success (along with a love of reading!) in my classroom and beyond.
My students at school began a fundraiser today. The money earned from the event will greatly benefit the students and our school. With tight budgets and cuts from government funding, we need all the help we can get to provide resources and other supplies.
At my church, many members frown upon fundraising. The church by-laws state that fundraising cannot take place for the daily operation of the church, but some people also disagree with using it for other purposes such as youth group retreats and mission camps.
When I try to view the situation from their perspective, I have trouble formulating valid reasons why fundraising is evil. Do they think it will deduct from the amount someone might tithe to the church? Is the money earned through fundraising somehow tainted? Or does it give Christians a bad reputation to solicit money? I’m not sure their reasons and I tend to shy away from confrontation, so I most likely won’t ask outright. (Yes, I’m a wimp.)
On the flip side, I can come up with reasons why the youth should fundraise for their activities. As a teacher and a youth leader, I see many teens floundering in their lives, searching for a purpose. Here are three ways I believe fundraising can help these teens:
1) Responsibility – In today’s society, many teens exist in a vacation-like gap between childhood and adulthood. For some, no one has ever told them they can make a difference in the world. They don’t feel responsible for a lot of what happens in their lives.
The teens in our youth group love, and I mean love, going to retreats and mission camps. These activities are beneficial to the teens and to so many other people as well, but they are expensive. For many, Mom or Dad writes the check and the teen merely has to show up and enjoy the trip. If teens play a larger part in earning money for these trips, it would be a lesson in responsibility and accountability, and I believe the trip would mean even more to them if they had to earn their way.
2) The Cost of Service – Teens in our youth group have many opportunities to serve others, but some do not yet understand the cost of serving. They might believe giving up time from friends or other activities is all it costs. However, gas is used getting to most places of service, and many teens fail to consider this. If we eat a meal out during a service project, usually Mom or Dad slips them some money to pay for it ahead of time. It would be beneficial for teens to realize the cost of service is more than just time. Raising money to help pay for some of the additional costs would help the teens realize their future life of service will come at a cost, but they will also know the blessings outweigh that cost.
3) Expanding the Kingdom – The more money our youth group earns the more lives we can touch. Going to retreat weekends helps recharge the teens. Mission camps allow them to see how people live in other parts of the country. They spend camp time serving others in a variety of ways. The cost of the camp, out-of-state transportation, meals, and travel supplies can be overwhelming for some families. The more money we raise, the more people we can take along to help serve others. The more people we serve, the more who learn about the love of Jesus.
I pray that church members support our efforts to raise money through both donations and fundraising. The money will touch the lives of our youth as well as all the people they serve. And I thank God for the opportunities available to serve. May He open our eyes to see them all.
Last week I wrote about making choices to please other people, and the thought continues to poke around my mind. Why do humans bow to the will of others so often? Why is approval from others so significant in our lives?
Over the years, I’ve said many times to a student, “Why do you keep making poor choices when you know they will result in negative consequences?”
Usually the response includes something about friends thinking it’s funny or other friends being involved. Peer pressure is an ugly thing, and it doesn’t end in the teenage years.
I struggle to control my frustration as it creeps into the rest of the conversation with the student. How do I make this student understand? And who am I to think I can make my students understand? I’m as guilty as they are when it comes to making bad decisions to please other people.
Last night – well, early this morning – our puppy woke me at 3:30 to go outside. (I’m not complaining…it’s better than the alternative.) Anyway, I had a hard time drifting back to sleep once I crawled back between my warm blankets, and I again started contemplating this dilemma.
On Sunday, the teens in my Sunday school class got into a discussion about Adam and Eve making the choice to eat the apple. Their comments were very thought-provoking and philosophical, and they wandered through my mind as I tried to go back to sleep.
I began to consider the Garden of Eden situation from God’s perspective. God knows all past, present, and future, so didn’t He know they would choose to eat that apple? Why did He put the tree there?
Once that thought hit my mind, sleep fled. I had never considered why God did that before. And He made that choice knowing it would have negative consequences…just like we do!
As I let the idea float around in my mind, I came to this conclusion:
God knew humans would become complacent in the bounty and blessings of the Garden and forget to give Him thanks and glory. Don’t we do that all the time? When life is good, our gratitude wanes and we begin to expect the beauty in the world. If that happens, it often takes something traumatic or stressful to remind us to look to God for guidance and give him thanks for the blessings we have.
Maybe, just maybe, God made the choice to put the tree with forbidden fruit in the Garden so we would live on earth without forgetting to give Him the glory He deserves. It certainly wasn’t the last time He did something that would be hurtful for Him to benefit the human race. Just ask Jesus.
Do you agree God knew we would disobey Him but chose to place the tree in the Garden anyway? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to have feedback on my early-morning musings.
“Please pick your head up off the desk and pay attention.”
“You need to get more sleep at night.”
These words can be heard in classroom on almost a daily basis. The teens struggle to focus, suppress yawns, and fight to keep their eyes open. Students are tired. Many are tired all the time. Why don’t they get some sleep?
Some are student athletes and claim to stay up late finishing homework after games or practices. Others babysit or do other jobs after school. But I know the teachers on my 8th grade team don’t assign that much homework. So are the kids simply staying up late staring at the television or engrossed in video games? Do they sit on their beds until the wee hours texting friends?
I recently read an article on this subject by Daniel Willingham. Basically, Willingham says teens who do not get enough sleep will suffer negative consequences. These include problems with memory, mood, attention span, and academic performance. I see these problems all the time, and the negative effects include poor grades, discipline consequences, disrespect, and the inability to get along with peers.
Willingham explains that when adults are tired, they “listen” to the internal clues their bodies give telling them to get some shut-eye. Teens, for some reason, are less likely to “hear” those clues and claim they aren’t sleepy. When given the choice, they choose to continue playing their video games, listening to music, or watching television because their bodies fail to relay the message that they need to sleep.
The optimum amount of sleep for a teen is nine hours and less than eight is insufficient. I’m positive very few of my students get that much. No wonder they have such a hard time staying awake.
Parents need to set boundaries. As kids get older, we want to give them more freedom, but we have to remember we’re still their parents. They aren’t ready to be completely self-sufficient. If they were, kids would move out on their own at 13. Isn’t that a scary thought? There are a lot of decisions we wouldn’t let our teenagers make for themselves without some input or advice from us. If we as parents are concerned about our children’s education and future, we have to realize their bodies aren’t equipped to make the best choice in this area of their lives.
They may scream “I hate you!” when you cut off their computers, turn off the television, or put parental controls on their phones to stop texting late at night, but don’t worry. Once they are old enough to understand, they will be smarter and much more rested, and I’m certain they will appreciate the boundaries you set which prove you love them.
God designed us to be parents and guide our children throughout their lives, not just until they reach the teen years. Don’t be afraid to be a parent instead of a friend. Kids can find friends everywhere they go. Parents are harder to come by.
As you may know, we have a new puppy in our house. Over the month or so we’ve had Rico, he’s grown into a much bigger puppy. His newfound ability to drag himself up onto the furniture delights him, and he can demolish a large rawhide in a day or so. Sweet natured with droopy questioning eyes, he has stolen our hearts. We adore him, but…
He has to be told “no”. A lot.
He doesn’t always come when we call.
He steals socks from the laundry pile.
He still has an occasional accident in the house.
He bites when he gets excited and wants to play.
I told my mom on the phone that I’m sure he’s like any other youngster. He’ll need to be reminded approximately 8,000 times before he understands the rules. I’m guessing we’ve made it to number 2,136. So very close…
How many moms and dads have said the phrase, “How many times do I have to tell you to (fill in the blank)?” It seems to easily slide through my lips both at home with the kids and at school with my students. Why can’t they listen so I don’t have to keep repeating myself?
As usual, when I start wondering why others don’t act the way I want, God taps me on the shoulder and says, “Do you think you’re better than them?
No, I don’t. Kids and puppies aren’t the only ones who need to hear how to act over and over again. God frequently has to remind me to be patient, unselfish, and understanding. And even when I listen, it sure is easy to slide back in the opposite direction.
Thankfully, God is patient with me and gently reminds me again. And again.
I can’t narrow down my blog to one subject today. There’s just too much to say. But I have managed to choose three things to address:
1) First of all, thank you! When I checked my blog last night after being out of town and unplugged for a few days, I noticed I have reached 100 followers. Woohoo! I’m very humbled and overwhelmed that many people want to read the words I write. I realize many blogs get thousands of people reading and commenting each time they post, so to them 100 followers might not seem like a great accomplishment. But for me, it’s unbelievable. Again, thank you so much.
2) Today is my birthday, which many people my age would see as a negative. For me, in many ways, it’s just another day. I’m teaching, going to the dentist, going grocery shopping…normal, routine activities.
But it’s also a special day. My phone is buzzing like a bee with all the Facebook messages. I smile each time it dances across my desk. I cried this morning (those who know me are probably thinking, “You cry all the time. That doesn’t make it a special day!”) when Autumn gave me a birthday card and gift. Her newfound independence from her job made her eyes shine with pride. It wasn’t a card Daddy bought. It wasn’t a gift from the whole family. It was from her, bought with her own hard work. Now if I could only be the mom the card says I am…
3) Friday at noon, I left on the church bus with eleven middle school youth for a retreat in the mountains. I was very excited to see the beautiful autumn colors on the mountainsides, but the trees weren’t cooperating. These pictures are the only 2 trees I saw showing off their seasonal fashions. Oh, well. I returned home last night to the greatest Autumn beauty of all.
Even with the lack of color, the retreat inspired and uplifted me. It encouraged me to take a step I’ve been contemplating for a long time. I’m amazed at how often messages for the youth touch my life in significant ways.
And the kids…what an awesome experience to spend three days with such a fine group. There were over 600 middle school students at the retreat and many accepted Jesus into their hearts for the first time, including one from our church. I’m so grateful I’m allowed to be a part of their lives.
Have a great week everyone. So far, mine is fantastic!
Our new puppy is the sweetest little thing, but he can sure make me feel guilty. When we put him in the crate at bedtime or when we leave for school and work in the morning, he yelps and howls like we’re abandoning him forever. If someone walks out of the door, even if there are still other family members inside, he sits at the door and whines with sadness.
Have you ever felt this way before? Abandoned and alone? Or even abandoned when you’re still surrounded by others? So many experiences in life can cause those feelings – death, divorce, illness, conflict, gossip, job loss. It’s easy to dwell on those feelings and forget about everything else life offers, just like the puppy forgets there are other people in the room and a floor strewn with toys and chew bones.
Many of my students understand what it’s like to feel rejected. It breaks my heart when I overhear conversations about walking to the corner gas station to buy dinner because no one is home or seeing them come to school in filthy clothes because no one does the laundry. So many of these young adults struggle to become confident, responsible individuals, but they don’t have good role models to follow.
I’m sure it’s difficult to look at their environments and pick out any blessings. Being abandoned by those who should be taking care of them makes it hard to see a bright future. Of course the neglect invades their education. The feelings of hopelessness make it difficult to believe school can make a difference. That’s one of the greatest challenges the education system faces – teaching a student to believe and have hope in the future.
Last week at work, an email announced a leader in our district is leaving in December for an assignment in another school division. Ouch. The sense of abandonment immediately twisted my gut. My initial reaction doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s the way it happened.
Logically, I understand and even applaud his decision because I know it will benefit his family, and it’s refreshing for a man so dedicated to work to make choices based on the needs of his wife and children. Yes, that’s my logical viewpoint, but emotionally, I feel deserted. He has been a blessing to our district, and his announcement seemed to dim the future. I’m certain someone will replace him who is capable and will also lead our schools well, but it’s difficult to let go of something that has proven so positive. I’m extremely sorry to see him go.
Sometimes life gets so grim, it’s easy to just want to give up. Have you ever convinced yourself that God abandoned you or someone else? When times get tough, sometimes we cry out to God because He doesn’t seem to be present, but if you believe in Him, you know He is there.
Sometimes, like the puppy, we’re just too focused on those who abandon us to see the One who is remains right by our side at all times.
How do you refocus on the positive when you feel abandoned? Please share your story in a comment.
School is back in session. Four days down, and I can honestly say I’m exhausted. I forgot how tired I get after teaching all day. This first week has been quite the eye-opener.
Yesterday, someone said in an off-hand way after asking about the start of the year, “You’ll be a good influence on the kids.”
Influence them? I’m supposed to educate them, prepare them for high school, and remind them there is a difference between there, their, and they’re.
But the comment kept sneaking around in my mind all evening, and I really began to consider how we influence others. How do we compel others to change, to alter their opinions or shift their focus? It’s awesome, if you think about it. Where does the power come from? At school, it won’t really matter how much preparation I put into my lessons because I think influence comes from the following three situations:
1) Love. If someone loves you, influencing them will be much easier than if they dislike you. Animosity causes people to reject your ideas no matter how valid they may be. Wouldn’t you be more willing to consider an issue from someone else’s perspective if you loved them?
I know some of my new students will love me. One year a boy said as he left my room, “Bye! I love you!” Yes, I realize it was said out of habit. He probably said the same to his mom when he left his house every morning, but it was still nice to hear.
Unfortunately, some kids won’t feel any love in their hearts towards me. It makes me sad when I can’t build a relationship with any student, but usually one or two escape me every year. Those are the ones I will not be able to influence with love.
2) Respect. I was reared to respect people older than me, people who hold positions of authority, and people who spend their time serving others. My classroom rules read, “Respect yourself. Respect others. Respect the school. If you do those things, no other rules are necessary.” It’s true, but don’t we all know someone who doesn’t show respect?
I have to admit, a lot of my students don’t care about my age or role in the classroom. Without respect, my ideas don’t sway them and are sometimes immediately rejected without consideration. Even though I’m acting for the benefit of their education and their future, they refuse to be influenced by anything I say or do.
3) Imbalance of power. Being influenced – or forced – by someone else’s strength, position, or some other attribute may change my mind, but it basically eliminates any possibility of me ever feeling love or respect toward the person who has caused the shift in my action. I think everyone feels this way when it comes to brute force. We may have to comply, but we don’t have to like it.
Using my position of authority to force a student to do (or quit doing) something creates tension and ill-will. I have to admit, some days I feel like it’s my only option with certain kids, but I pray the relationships I build with my students are strong enough to influence them through love and respect.
Clint Eastwood once said, “It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people’s lives.” I hope I have the discipline to do so because each of my students is an extraordinary individual with the potential to grow even more amazing. I am so blessed, honored, burdened, and overwhelmed to be a part of such an incredible experience.
What other factors do you think contribute to influence?
Do you like change? Some people require it. Their life isn’t complete without shifts and obstacles. Others prefer a routine that remains steady and sure with few surprises to create bumps in the road.
There are numerous changes in my life right now. I’m trying to embrace each one because they’re all good.
Well, at least I’m trying to convince myself they are good, but some changes are difficult to swallow without a little sugar added.
School starts on Tuesday. Every class has its own personality, its own reputation. I try to ignore most of what I hear because in the past, more often than not, what I hear doesn’t equate to the reality in my classroom. Kids mature, and my relationship with them is never exactly the same as the relationship they shared with previous teachers.
Autumn started driving this week. Yes, she’s been driving for quite a while, but this week she took off alone. My stomach knots each time she’s behind the wheel until she sends me a text saying she’s arrived at her destination safely.
My 8th grade team has one less member this year. Our only male teacher was moved to the high school, and the change will dramatically alter our team dynamic. He kept the rest of us smiling and prevented the female emotional response from overwhelming situations too often.
Mathews Baptist finally found a new pastor after more than 1-1/2 years with an interim. Tag Kilgore has challenged, inspired, taught, and even entertained our congregation for months, and he will be truly missed. We excitedly welcome a new pastor and his family to our church family, and we anticipate a powerful future with them.
Magic, our cat of 13 years, died two weeks ago. If I walk through the house in the middle of the night, I still see her lurking in the shadows. When I enter the laundry room, I instinctively look in the corner to see if her water bowl needs to be filled.
Autumn has a new job at Chick-fil-a. I’m very proud of her, but I miss her when she’s not around. Usually everywhere she goes, I’m there too. Youth group, camp, shopping, wherever. She’s my sidekick, and now there’s a void when she’s gone.
Two of my five positions at church end this weekend. Roles I’ve held for three years will cease without any adjustment period. The abruptness almost seems harsh.
Change is good? I realize some of my “changes” above don’t seem so, but I have to seek the goodness in each one. Autumn is growing up, whether I like it or not. Magic had been sick. Tag’s desire isn’t to be our permanent pastor. The high school students will thrive under the instruction of my colleague who has been moved. I will have more time at church to devote to the youth group. Yes, good can be found in each change if I look carefully enough.
Change is good. When life doesn’t change, I get too comfortable and start to slip into bad habits. Change challenges me, creates opportunities to stretch my faith, and keeps me alert. I’m ready. Bring it on!
What changes are you facing right now? Are they churning up excitement or fear in your heart? Please share in a comment.