Thursday, 21 April 2016

Just a flip of a switch - keeping communication lines open with your teens

It is a strange place to find yourself; as a parent of a teenager. To discover suddenly that what was acceptable communication yesterday is not today. I want to ask "who flipped the switch?"
It is no surprise and I have been waiting for it, as it is no secret that all teens go through this time when parents can do or say nothing right ...but still when it happened it caught me off guard. I am right in the middle of it, with one 15 year-old and one that is 18 years old. Yet I am surprised how the rules of engagement can change from day to day or hour to hour. So, not only does the switch flip, but it feels like it is flipping up and down constantly and to navigate what position we are in at any given time is almost impossible.
I do not intend this blog to become an opportunity to complain about teenagers, especially my own, as I happen to feel I have two exceptionally wonderful teens. As biased as that is, I stand by it. This is more about what I am learning about how to navigate this interesting season. 
It is hard to be in a place where your opinion is not seen to be valued. It challenges me to think about where I get my value? 
I am learning to continually see myself in the image of God, and as His child, as well as continually handing my children over to Him, knowing that He hasn't finished with any of us yet. It reminds me that this season and these challenges are not about me, but about my teens learning and growing and needing to question, to widen their circle and seek out what they believe. AND I am learning that when I do get emotional about them not valuing my opinion, often it simply shuts down the potential lines of future communication. 
It is hard to be in a place where the conversation seems completely irrational to me and when I try to bring some rationality to the situation, it sends the conversation to an ugly place. It challenges me make to think about what is the right response as a parent in this space?  
I am learning that one thing they need right now is for me to listen, listen and listen. It reminds me that they need me to empathise no matter how ridiculous it sounds as it is simply a part of the process and often the irrational verbalisation is important for them to hear out loud for themselves more than anything else. AND I have learned to apologise A LOT, for not listening and speaking too much. 
It is hard to be in a place where I am asked for my opinion, but when it is not what they want to hear, then I become the enemy. It challenges me to consider that HOW I respond can make all the difference. 
I am learning not to take this personally and to see that sometimes being the punching bag is because they feel safe to vent with me. I am learning that a response like "that is really tough", "I am sorry to hear that " or "I am confident that you will make the right choice", or "have you thought about talking to ... (a mentor/coach/trusted older person) about this ?" is often better than them hearing my opinion. AND I have learned that this is a really important time for others’ voices in my teens’ lives. 
It has reminded me of the importance of coaches and mentors for both myself and the kids. I am thankful for the people in my life who have walked this road before, who listen to me and help me see the funny side of some of the conversations, because sometimes all I can do is to laugh it off and let it go. I am thankful for a wonderful husband and life partner, which means I am not alone and that we get to walk this season together. We often find that when one is weak the other is strong and together we get there eventually. I am thankful for the men and woman in my teens’ lives who they can go to and hear the same advice I would give, but that they will actually listen to. I encourage anyone with younger children that NOW is the time to start being strategic about placing the right people in your kids’ lives so that when they become teenagers the trust is already there for your teens to go to them. 
This season challenges me to stay the course, keep the end in mind, keep short accounts of conversations, let go, draw closer and talk (sometimes cry) to my perfect Heavenly Father. ABOVE all, do whatever it takes to keep the lines of communication OPEN. Irrespective of whether the switch is up or down ... because while it can flip any second ... open lines, unconditional love, a calm and listening ear, wisdom from above and a willingness to say sorry... will get us through this season. 
I have to believe that. I am not there yet ... I will keep you posted. 

Friday, 15 April 2016

"Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" - Is it possible today?

It just so happens that both my husband and I are involved in ministry/work that means we get the privilege of travelling a lot. Nowadays even when you are apart distance wise it doesn't mean anything because the internet allows you to literally talk everyday no matter where you are.  The young people I know who go away from home to “find themselves” or “have an adventure”, speak to family or boyfriends/girlfriends everyday and I often wonder if the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder" is even possible today?

When I was 16 and travelled with my family to Europe, I left my then boyfriend (now husband) at home and couldn't connect with him for many weeks at a time. I remember being stressed about it at times and feared that he had found someone else while I was away. I wrote about him in my journal and missed him a lot and when we did talk I think the first thing I said to him was “Do you still love me?” How insecure. But these conversations were really special and the reunion was awesome. I think the distance and space helped my “heart to grow fonder”, to appreciate him and value our relationship. 

I wonder is that kind of “space” even possible today. If some time away from someone you love, means that you lose them because they begin looking elsewhere, maybe you never had them in the first place. There is no doubt that “absence” can “make” or “break” relationships, but better earlier than later, I say. Likely it would have happened at some point.
“Absence” can show up the “weakness” and/or “strengths” in a relationship. 

In fact I have friends who I might see or speak to once a year, and when we get together we just pick where we left off ... and “my heart grows very fond for them”. To me that is “true” friendship and the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is very real in this instance. I am often amazed at young people today who spend all day with their friends at school and then talk all night on “snapchat” and never really have the space away from each other. I wonder whether this indicates “strong” or “weak” friendships?

The travel Dave and I do nowadays means we are often apart and in places where there is no reception to talk over the internet. So there are weeks when we don’t get to chat. People often ask “oh, you must be struggling with Dave being away!” I often feel guilty that I am not struggling and maybe that sounds harsh and unloving.  I do know that I love it when we are together and I love it when we are doing whatever ministry we are doing and I can’t wait to get back to tell my “life partner” all about it. So, I choose to be happy wherever I am. But I also think it runs deeper for me and maybe it is part of the joy and security in being committed in this relationship for over 30 years. But when we are apart, there is something special about the saying that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” that is very true for me. That is, that a little space helps you realise the special relationships you have, and this can only be understood in the “space” apart. If you never have that space, I wonder if you don’t appreciate, learn to trust and value the relationship as deeply!

I find with the internet ...with “skype”, “facetime”, “whatsapp”, snapchat, etc, there is very little “space” today. I wonder if the fear of not being in contact with someone COULD actually feeds into negative thoughts like our lack of trust, our fear of not being loved and valued, to the thoughts rejection or betrayal, our own lack of self worth, or our own fear of being alone. 

I wonder if in the “space” we could turn off all communication. Could we be happy to be on our own, with our own thoughts and stories, or even more scary, happy to be with just God in the “space”?

This “space” has become a great place for me. A “space” where I can not only enjoy my time with God, my time on my own, but also I find that when Dave and I re-enter into our “space” together, our hearts grow fonder because of the absence.

 “Absence” doesn’t have to mean going away for a long period of time. Some people simply need a night out with other friends, a Saturday morning to do their own thing, a little “space” apart. My husband loves to ride his motorbike. He gets up early in the morning and rides for 2 hours and when he returns he is in such a better space for us to be together. He allows me to do the things that give me the “space” I need as well. If we didn’t give each other that space I wonder if we would feel as strong in our relationship. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Why don’t you test and see?   

Thursday, 7 April 2016

It is just a bump in the road

It was a Saturday morning and I had been a little lazy over the last couple of months, doing very little exercise and eating badly, so I decided today was new day.  Today would be the first day of a new leaf turned. I was going to get back into shape again. I decided to ease in by taking the dog for a walk.  It was a beautiful autumn morning. I was even clever thinking I had to drop something at my parents’ house, so I would take this opportunity to do this, as well as walking the dog (which was well overdue, I had been slack in this area as well). That was what I call “killing three birds with one stone”.  This was going to be a good day.

Well I get not 10 minutes down the track behind our house and clearly missed seeing “the bump in the road” and rolled my right ankle, fell onto the path hitting my left knee and gashed my left ankle in the process.  There was a lovely couple watching the episode and came running to help me. I am thinking... “Are you serious? I haven’t even worked up a sweat”. 

The man said, “that bump in the road! You should sue the council for that. It’s a bad one”. They helped me up and although my ankle was aching, I decided I would walk it out.  I hobbled a little slower down the track, trying to work out if I was being silly to keep walking, when my dog, who never does a poo while we are walking, decided it was time to do her business on the front lawn of someone’s house. Hmm ... seriously ... not a good time to stop and let my ankle cool down.  But when you gotta go, you gotta go.  I opened the doggy bag to scoop the poop to discover the bag had a huge hole in it. (Clearly showing that I very rarely have to use them as she never poos while we are walking). I tried with all my might to scoop while not getting anything on my hands and not bending too much as my knee was starting to hurt.

We set off again towards my parents’ house, when another 100 yards along my dog decides to do what she has never done in her life … stop to do a second huge poo!

Now I am starting to think she is punishing me for not walking her lately. But I have to tell you, getting the second poo into the bag with the huge hole was not going to happen without getting “poo” on my hands.

So, here I am hobbling up the hill towards my parents’ house with a full, holey, smelly bag of poo in one hand, juggling the lead and my water bottle in the other, when along comes a neighbour out walking who wants to stop and chat about what a beautiful day it is and to ask me how I am going!  I engage in the conversation as nicely as I can, but “pant” to give him the indication that I really must keep my heart rate up and need to keep moving. When I arrive at my parents’ house, wash my hands, stop to tell them what happened ... it becomes clear as I cool down that my dad will have to drive me home!

I spent the rest of the day on the lounge, with “ICE” oscillating from right ankle to left knee, watching movies and eating chocolate. Great start to “turning over a new leaf”.  Of course, I quickly saw the funny side to all of this and could laugh it off. Actually I could even make the most of it, seeing it as another excuse to simply relax for the weekend and do nothing, with all the justification in the world.

It is amazing how quickly your plans can be thwarted by just a “bump” in the road. It is where it all started and although frustrating, it won’t keep me down for long.  But it started to make me think; if only I could see some of the serious things that happen to me as simply “a bump on the road”, laugh it off, make the best of it and then keep going.

There have been so many “bumps” over the years that have knocked me right off my feet and I have never been able to recover or keep going. I have simply given up, got discouraged and never tried again. So many plans and dreams that I would have liked to see happen and because they haven’t come to pass, they have rocked my confidence and my ability to keep going. There are scars I still carry, which shape the decisions I make today, the way I view myself and at times the way I have viewed God.

Yet, the scar I got from that fall that Saturday, is now a good story to make people laugh. The series of events that happened after the fall is so typical when you are feeling down. It is never just one thing, yet the dog and the poo and the neighbour just made this story funnier.  Why can’t I view all the bumps in the road like that? Sure, some are more serious “bumps” than others, but in the end I still have a choice to allow the “bumps” to make me stronger or weaker, to let them stop me or make me more determined, to make me bitter or more compassionate, to make me sue someone or worse, blame God. Or I could stop, rest, recover, see it for what it is - the “bumps” that life throws at you - get up and keep going.

It is just a “bump in the road”. It may not be fair. It may not be nice. It may not be easy, but it is a “bump in the road”, and in this life they will happen no matter how wonderful your plans are.  The question is, what will we choose to do about it WHEN the bumps come?  Will we let them define us or will we choose to get back up, dust ourselves off and keep moving forward.

I envy those who can “easily laugh off” or “let go” of the serious “bumps” in life, but hopefully each day I am getting better at it.  I hope so because as I get older, I am sure there are many more “bumps” to come!