Father knows Best–and it’s time we start believing it

My son is 12. (any of the parents of difficult tweens out there, you felt the sympathetic wince that statement elicits)

angry-teen-boy-350Yep, he’s twelve–and it’s been baptism by fire.

You see, he’s our first, and our most difficult. And this year has been hard.

I was a teacher, now am a professor, and I have a graduate degree in Psychology, so I should have been ready for everything this year and this stage were going to unload on me–right?

Sadly, no.

I have been pushed to the limit of my parenting skills and my psychology skills. It’s just been plain hard.

You see, my son is hard-headed (that’s the understatement of the century!) He might only be twelve, but he thinks he knows better than everybody else. And the kid has always known what he’s wanted and has had the stubbornness and tenacity to go after it. The combination of these two traits has been a nightmare.

That was unacceptable behaviour, young man

In one of our most recent battle of the wills, we tried another tact. Instead of addressing Gavin’s behavior (which was mean, spiteful, and disrespectful), we addressed it’s effectiveness.

We pointed out that his approach was not meeting and gaining his objective. In other words,

“You’re not getting what you want when you act this way! So why not change your behavior, and see if that gives you the pay out you’re looking for?!!”

I wish that my son would choose to do the right thing, because it is the right thing. That’s what I want, but sadly, he’s not there–yet.

But when we pointed out that what he considers his shortcut, is not only not a shortcut, but is preventing him from the desired end all together, he finally started paying a little bit of attention.

As I explained to him that my desire is not to hurt him, but to ensure his well being and his happiness…when I explained that we correct his behavior because we see and know more, and that he just needs to trust us, even if he doesn’t see how it makes sense or why it should work that way…I couldn’t help but see the correlation to my own relationship with God.

We know where we want to go. We see what we want.

And we see the quick route–the direct route–to our destination.

But most of the time, that’s not the route we find ourselves on. We find ourselves on what appears to be a circuitous route, one that sometimes seems to go backwards, wanders to rabbit trails, and even sometimes seems to end in dead-ends. Much of my life I have felt like Moses wandering around in the desert, knowing where I need to be, but unable to get there. Or like David, the anointed King of Israel who, instead of ruling as was his right, finds himself moldering in a cave for years.

long-winding-road-p92b_saint_gothard_pass_switzerlandWhen there is a disconnect between the life that is, and the life that we feel like we should be living, we become confused, disgruntled,  angry, and often bitter.

“Why, God? Why?” we rail.

He gives us the dream, He sets our path, but instead of the path leading to our expected destination, we find ourselves in the desert, or hidden in a cave, forgotten, moldering away into anonymity.

I’ve had lots of these moments in my life. Moments when it seems like God stopped listening, stopped caring, and certainly stopped guiding.

But as I talked with Gavin, I was convicted.

That was the child’s response, and I am not a child. It is time to put away childish things.

Just as I am asking Gavin to trust that my way is better, I need to trust that God’s way is better.

Just as I tell my son that I am looking at the big picture that he cannot know, I need to trust that God is seeing the big picture that I cannot see.

This place, where I’m at, this isn’t what I wanted. Or at least, this was not the way I wanted it to be.

I thought I’d be much farther by now.

Next year I turn 40. By 40, I thought I would be established.

I’m not.

I have a fledgling writing career.

I am an associate professor, not a tenured one.

I’m not in the ministry.

My goal to change the world and help people in some large way, has translated into a much smaller sphere of influence than I anticipated.

And it’s taken me almost 40 years to get here.

But, I think I’ve been missing the point.

I’m a writer and a professor, and that’s what I always wanted to be.

And occasionally, God has used me to touch a few, not as a missionary, not in some defined role, but as I rub shoulders with people in my daily life.

waysThe road was not the road I would have chosen, but, I have to believe, it was the road I was meant to take–the road I needed to take. God sees the big picture, the destination and the necessary journey.

It’s time I started giving God the trust He deserves. I need to have faith in a Father who loves me and who knows more, sees more, than I do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Today is not filler–so why do we treat it as if it is?

I have spent a lot of time lately reflecting the course of my life.

dreamerWhether it is the fact that 40 is quickly approaching (like a Mack truck ready to hit me head on) or whether it is listening to the dreams and aspirations of my students as they neared the end of their high school journey or perhaps it is the reality of my own children who are leaving childhood behind one by one to enter this new world of tween-ness and adolescence–whichever of these is the catalyst, I have found myself reflecting in depth my early dreams, where I thought I would go, and where I instead am, and where it is I want to go from here.

outlineI had a plan, and that plan is most certainly not where I am. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, had a lot of unique experiences. I’ve traveled the world, mothered orphans, taught basic hygiene in remote villages. I’ve had a daughter of my own, loved her unconditionally, and a year later buried her in the cold, hard earth. I have counseled the mentally ill, talked the suicidal down from the ledge, and tried to help the abused piece their lives back together. I’ve taught little children, and big children–and changed a few of them forever. I have done lots of things, but none of these is what I planned to do.

By my own measuring stick of success, I should have been living internationally for a couple of decades by now. Whether Saipan (as we first intended) or China (plan number 2) or somewhere else entirely, I should not have been stateside, living in suburbia. So, despite all I have done, all I have not done weighs heavily on me. The road I was to have taken has not been taken, and with that comes a measure of failure, a sense failed opportunity that begs me to ask, why? Why has my life gotten so off course? Why do I find myself here, when I was supposed to be there? Why does my life today not look how I pictured it oh so many years ago?

I think we all go through these moments and these struggles, and though I am far from having all the answers, I am slowly, over the decades, piecing together an answer with help from many others.

angryThere is a disparity between where I am now, and where I feel I should be. It makes me by turns angry, frustrated, or depressed. Sometimes God Himself takes the brunt of these emotions–why has He allowed this? Why does He not do something? At other times I turn them on myself–what is wrong with me? Am I weak and undisciplined? Can I not hear the voice of God? Or sometimes they turn on fate itself–why is the world against me? Fate has conspired to keep me from my path! Regardless of who I focus this angst on, the reality is that the angst is there, it is real, and at times it is palpable.

I don’t like being angst ridden, and I don’t like not having answers (though I have consigned myself to sometimes not getting them) so I have spent a long time wrestling with the whys, and I think I’m beginning to piece together part of the why.

Patience. It is something that I have always lacked. Why put off for tomorrow what you can do today? (That’s not to say that I don’t have a procrastinating streak a mile wide for the things I don’t want to do)

looking-outI have always struggled with being content in the now. I am a mountain top person. I am always looking ahead for the next mountain to climb. As soon as I get to the top of my current mountain, I am ready to tackle the next one. I am always looking ahead–restless.

It so happens that my son is the same way, and in watching him, I have understood myself better. No matter how good the moment, Gavin is always thinking ahead to the next moment. He seems to lack the capacity to take each moment and get the most out of each of them, because he is not focused in the now, but in the tomorrow. And how much he misses because of it!

As I have watched my son, I have begun to understand what it is I’m doing. I look at my now too often as a filler, something to get through so I can get to the next big moment. And the twenty years since my dreams were derailed, have often been just that to me in a lot of ways–filler.

There is a little book called “Anonymous” by Alicia Britt Chole that I have read and re-read many times over the last few years. I have found myself drawn back to this book in my recent reflections, and I found myself hit anew by several of the things she says:

What grows in that underestimated gap between God’s calling and others’ perceptions, between our true capabilities and our current realities? Most of us struggle if our dreams are delayed one year, let alone twenty! We find God’s pauses perplexing. They seem to be a waste of our potential. When those pauses extend beyond what we can comprehend or explain (say, for instance, three days), we often spiral into self-doubt or second-guessing…Father God is neither care-less nor cause-less with how he spends our lives. When he calls a soul simultaneously to greatness and obscurity, the fruit–if we wait for it–can change the world.

This is a truth that I’m trying to wrap my mind around. The journey in getting somewhere is at least as important as getting there. The journey is what changes me, and makes me into an individual who is capable of doing what I’m supposed to do, and the journey is full of friends and moments that are worth having, that can be life altering.

shepherd-sheepI think of Moses. He had a destiny–to free the Israelites from slavery. He knew his objective, so, one day, he sees an Egyptian beating a slave and he thinks to himself, “This is my opportunity!” and he kills the Egyptian, and in so doing he thinks he will begin the revolution that will free his people–only it didn’t. In fact, instead, he had to flee (what to his mind probably felt like abandoning his people all together–not to mention his destiny) and live in virtual obscurity for the vast majority of his life. He was living in the gap–in the place of disparity between what is, and what he thinks should be.

Were all those years wasted years? They probably often felt that way to Moses. Was Moses wrong about his calling? Absolutely not. But he was wrong about the timing.

There are moments in our lives when we feel like Moses. When we feel as if we have failed our dreams, we have lost our destiny. There are moments in our lives when we look at our now and see nothing but filler–but we’re looking at it the wrong way. There is no such thing as filler–not where God is involved.

Alicia Britt Chole puts it this way:

We have a tendency to think that “main” is out there, not right here. Main is on hold. waiting to appear until after…we finish our education or get married or find that dream job or start a family or resolve that conflict or complete that task or get out of debt or retire or slow down…[but] I hear a gentle whisper from God in my soul: Child, I am the God who waste’s no man’s time. To me, every course in your life is main. 

That rings as true to me. No moment in our lives, no season, is filler. It all has purpose. If we are too busy looking past this moment to the next one, we’re going to miss what it is
we’re supposed to do, see, become…

beautiful-live-moment-wallpaper-favim-com-5205741Embrace your today for what it is–life.

Today, how will you become more than you were yesterday? Today, how will you give back? Today, what is it you need to learn? Today, who needs your help?

As for myself, I’m going to stop looking so much at what I’m not doing, and start looking more at what I can do, right now, right here, in this season of my life.

What are we doing? Technology: the curse of this generation

When I was a kid and I got to school early, I hung out with friends. I talked. If I was in an anti-social mood, maybe I read. If I was in a waiting room at the doctor’s office and there was no one to talk to and I was surrounded by dull magazines, I thought. I thought about the world and my place in it. I thought about God, who he was and what I believed. I thought of the future and who I wanted to become. I rifled through my past mistakes and thought about what I might do differently next time.

Of course, that was in the age before cell phones and the brainless activity that is always at the tips of our fingers these days. You know, eons ago before this new technological age. At least, that is what it seems like to so many of my students. How in the world did we do without technology?!

I teach Freshmen. I think there are few who are so in touch with the trends of culture and the shifts of our youth as a high school teacher. And what I see lately disturbs me greatly.

When my students get to school early, the vast majority don’t hang out with their friends, and even if they do, they aren’t talking to them. They are too busy texting the friends who aren’t there or tweeting about some inane something or playing a game or . . . well you get the idea. Too often, when my first hour class comes in, I will have 20 kids all sitting their quietly with cell phones out in their own little worlds. They are disconnected from their peers. They are losing their ability to communicate effectively, and, so many of them, as a result, feel isolated and alone.

Group Of Teenage Students Sitting Outside On College Steps Using Mobile Phone

When this generation (and so many of us in the Gen X generation as well as Millennials are falling into this as well) has down time, out come the phones. No small talk with strangers that teaches how to interact and learn from others. No self-reflection so that they grow as individuals and wrestle with the higher concepts of the world and their place in it. When I ask my students to reflect or write an essay about what they think, so many of them don’t even know how to reflect and have never even thought about these philosophical or existential concepts. All great thought and great deeds come from moments of reflection. What are we doing to our future?

We started “The Odyssey” in my classes a couple of weeks ago. Along with it, the kids need to read a modern epic. It was horrifying to hear the number of my students who asked if their book could be found on spark notes and when I said that, no, I didn’t think any of these would be on spark notes, they followed up by asking if there was a movie made from the book. When the answer was no, the kids panicked. “Mrs. Graham! What are we supposed to do?”

I gave them a blank look and responded, “What you are supposed to be doing– you read it.”

I-Hate-Reading-9781602130258
They were flabbergasted. They don’t read. They hate reading. There has to be an easier way. Can’t I just let them pass without making them read? Why do they have to do anything at all? The number of students who seem to think that just sucking air should be all they need to do to pass is staggering. If there is not a short cut provided through some technological means or another, they simply don’t want to do it anymore.

It’s not that any of my classmates didn’t cheat when I was growing up. Many of them did. It’s the fact that the number is rising incredibly because of the ease of cheating. Plagiarism actually took some thought and effort in my day (and I’m not that old btw!!). Now every kid has a computer or access to one and all they need to do is google spark notes or some other comparable website and, bam! They don’t need to think at all; someone has already done the thinking for them. If a student wanted to plagiarize when I was in school they had to go to the library or even a bookstore to hunt down spark notes or something comparable–now it’s at the tips of our fingers and so many of the kids don’t see anything wrong with that at all.

plagiarism

I can’t help but wonder what this is going to mean as this generation hits maturity. They are the generation of entitlement. They are used to not being held accountable. They are used to doing the bare minimum to get by and when it’s not enough to get by, too often, we simply lower the bar to accomodate them.

Obviously, not all of them fall into this. There are many great kids out there who are hard workers. There just aren’t as many as there used to be and the number of kids who want to coast through life playing video games, watching youtube videos or pretending that life is just one big party, well, there are just SO MANY of them. If the few strong ones have to support the rest of them, well . . . quite frankly, we’ll go belly up.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. Technology is wonderful in so many ways, but as with so much in life, anything out of balance can become destructive.

My 2nd and 4th grade children are continually complaining because all they have is a flip phone between them (for emergencies only) and all their friends have iphones (I don’t even have an iphone!) and ipads, kindles and nooks (again, I don’t even have one of these!).

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They can complain away, because I’m just no willing to go there. I want them to talk and play, use their imaginations and think about life. I don’t want them glued to a glowing screen. I know I can’t keep them from it forever, but first, I want to teach them to use their minds, to enjoy a good book, and how to make friends–and keep them–real friends, not just the text variety that seems to be so in these days. It would be easier to give them the phone, but, well, isn’t that the problem right there? The best is rarely the easiest.

I Want My Cake and to Eat it Too

            I find myself at a time of introspection. I am constantly thinking about where/who I’ve been, where I am now and where I want to go. I feel very at odds with myself. My youth and young adult years were everything I could have hoped for, at least until Serena entered the scene and things were derailed for quite some time. As is to be expected, that left chaos in its wake and we’ve been searching for a place to stand ever since.

            Ironically, by default, while I was simply trying to survive, life moved me to where I said I never wanted to be, in what I used to term the “treadmill of life.” I am on the path to being the typical “soccer mom.”

           For many, that is exactly where they want to be. For me . . . well, you know the line from Pirates of theCaribbean? “A pirate’s life for me?” Well, the spirit of that line is very much me. In fact, it’s been echoing in my head lately. J

            Now don’t get me wrong. I love my children and I love being a mother. I wouldn’t trade a one of them, not even Serena, despite all of the pain she brought with her. It’s just I want my cake and to eat it too.

            I want the joy of family and I want the life of adventure. Is that even possible? Is it fair to my children? I struggle with this on a daily basis. I have yet to come to a conclusion that seems satisfying and so, for the time being, I pretend to be the soccer mom, a role I am very ill designed to play if I’m totally honest with myself.

            In our youth we are told we can be whatever we want to be. We’re told to shoot for the stars. We dream, we hope, we start on the path, and then life happens. And we are left disgruntled and disillusioned.

            As I remind myself continually, life is not lived in the destinations or the achievements. It is lived in the little things, the moments of pure happiness: My children’s laughter, kisses and snuggles, the unbridled excitement of new experiences to little eyes as we introduce them to the world. Those are the moments of life.

            Still, I can’t let go of the idea that there must be a way to have my cake and to eat it too. So still I ponder. And I am determined, I will find an answer. It is the dilemma of the modern mom.