Markers

Markers

I was recently in Oklahoma City to train a group of youth ministers.  With some extra time, I made a stop at the Murrah Federal Building Bombing Memorial and Museum. What caught my eye more than anything else were the two gates erected at either end of the memorial. The first reads 9:01, the minute before the bomb exploded. The second reads 9:03. The explanation marker says it was designed to represent all of the time before the explosion and then the moment healing begins.

Pause for a minute and let it sink in – a gate dedicated to the moment healing began.

Scripture tells about the Israelites erecting stones to remember the crossing of the Jordan. Therapists create memory boxes with clients experiencing grief. People have sentimental key rings or stuffed animals or pieces of jewelry, such as wedding rings, to commemorate major life events.

We call these markers.

Tragic events themselves become markers of pain and loss, forever etched in our memory.  For those of us old enough, we remember exactly what we were doing September 11, 2001.  But for those of us who insist life won’t end in tragedy, it becomes imperative to plant the stones that claim healing.

The impact of a conversation that creates a turn. The tears that finally come when we are allowed to feel our true feelings. The first kind word in a long time. Finally finding a safe space.

What markers will we plant when we decide that our loss will not have the last word?

Unfortunately, creating markers does not always come naturally for me. It was not something I was taught when growing up and have had to learn to navigate on my own. And I have found that, without markers, it is easy to forget.

And yet, despite missing some, the markers I have deeply matter. They remind me of shifts in my life that dramatically changed me. From my wedding day, to the day my girls were adopted, to the people who prayed over me and my child after we heard the doctor say the word “epilepsy.” They are days of change, but more importantly, they are times when healing began.

What are the 9:03 gates in your life? The moment healing began after life took an unexpected turn? Are you pointing out to others the events that may be markers for them when you see it? Are you teaching your children and the youth you interact with to erect markers that help them remember?

Because sometimes children, youth and adults alike all need to know and remember the exact time healing began.

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
Every Kid Needs a Trophy

Every Kid Needs a Trophy

Today, we have a guest writer on the Teen Life blog! Seth Nichols is married to our Program Director, Beth. Seth has taught public school for 10 years and prior to that worked as a full-time youth minister. Take a look at what he had to say this week!


 

Emotionally speaking, our kids today have one of the most challenging paths to adulthood of any generation in history.

My wife, Beth, finished the Cowtown Marathon in 2010. It took every ounce of willpower and determination she had to eek out a glorious 5-hour finish time in a puddle of sweat and tears.

Today, as we were cleaning out drawers, our 5-year-old found her participant’s medal.

“Mommy–did you get first place?!”

After a snarky laugh, the response came– “Sometimes, buddy, you get a medal just for not quitting.”

________________

Some people say our kids today are entitled.  That they’re too soft.  That they need a trophy for everything.

Maybe they do.

The race they are running isn’t the same one many of us coasted through 30 or 50 years ago.

Theirs runs
up mountains of expectations,
against the winds of financial hardship and class separation,
through rains of data-driven critique,
far from home,
alone from adult interaction,
lost in a cyber-world that threatens YouTube clips any time they trip or #fail.

Their race is not for the faint of Spirit.

Every distance runner knows that the worst part of any race is the head-game.  Of course they’re sensitive. But the fact that they are still running means they’re also courageous.  They may not be making record time. But just by their not quitting, we are witnessing cause for celebration.

It isn’t easy.  Disconnection and isolation can make even a comfy Suburban life seem impossibly difficult.

So cheer your kids on today.  They need you.  Resist those grumpy voices in your head from past generations that say you’re being too soft, that you’re encouraging entitlement, that you’re making them too thin-skinned.

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Trust me when I say– life in the 21st century will make them calloused enough without your help.

__________________

After 15 years of youth work, I have come to this conclusion: our kids are entitled. They are entitled to every drop of our scant praise, our scarce love and our meager encouragement to keep on running.  They are entitled because they are our kids.

The course set for them is long and hard.  And we may just be witnessing the miracle of the human spirit with every graduation, every new class, and every next step.

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So give your kids a trophy.  Let love flow freely, and critique run dry.  And with your little morsel of praise to nudge them on, who knows what mountains they may conquer next?

The Masquerade

The Masquerade

This week, my 5-year old son John came down the hall and introduced himself as “Kevin.”   When I turned around from washing dishes, I realized he was wearing goggles- Minion goggles from his Kevin costume. For the next hour, he only answered to “Kevin” and ignored anyone who called him by his actual name. We all had several good laughs when someone inadvertently called him by his true name, causing much playful indignation.

Masks.

Designed for fun. Designed for camouflage. Designed for protection. Designed to make a statement. Worn by people of all ages and stages.

An excerpt from “We Wear the Mask” – a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

 

Unlike my 5-year-old, too often the students we work with wear masks for protection and/or camouflage. They are anxious about being seen for who they really are. They do not want to be singled out for fear of being targeted. They do not know what to do with the hurt that they carry. They do not know if they will be accepted.

The same things could be said about us as adults.

What can we do? How can we help the students we love (and ourselves)? A few suggestions for pulling back the mask:

  1. Be present. Show up – Be consistent – Follow through – for the students in your lives and your adult friends. Allow others to make their own decisions. No one pulls their masks back without trust and relationship.
  2. Ask students how they feel. Stick to the basics – sad, mad, scared, and glad. This is probably a new idea to many of them and to many adults. Give them a script – “I feel _______ when _______ happens.”  It isn’t always easy, but it makes a huge difference when a person can identify and own their feelings.
  3. Model authenticity with appropriate boundaries. In the words of Madeline Fry– “Healthy vulnerability recognizes when to share and when to remain silent. This helps you strike the balance between guarding who you are at your core and expressing it.” Learning boundaries takes practice in a world that pressures you to share and say yes.

 

Eventually, my son took off the goggles and informed us all that we could call him John again. Our hope is that everyone, students and adults alike, have a safe place to remove their masks and be called by their true name.

May you be that person for someone else and may you have those people in your life as well.

 

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life's Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship.  For some, the word invokes images of Boy Scouts saying the pledge of allegiance or students volunteering at the library.   Most of us would define the word by a reference to service of some kind.  Many of us older adults mourn the loss of citizenship among our students.   Many think of citizenship as a product of a bygone era, no longer possible or practical among our digital generation of teens.

My son has been learning about citizenship in his martial arts class.  In each class, there is a simple lesson geared toward the 3 to 5 year-old students about picking up trash, saying hi to a new student in class, helping an elderly person who lives in your neighborhood, opening doors for others, etc.

As I listened to his instructor, I realized that while the stated character trait was citizenship, it was ultimately about community:  Who do you know? Who can you serve? Who do you need to add to your community?

Our youth need community as much as ever.  Too often, we get caught up in thinking that adolescence is about moving away from the family and friends a child has always known. In reality, adolescence is about forming identity within your own developing community – a new community that both includes and extends beyond the community you grew up knowing.  As adults working with teens, do we point our youth in the direction of where they could find community and a place to serve with their newly developing identities and gifts?

I have found that service, or citizenship, becomes a natural and organic outgrowth of people who have a place to belong.

A few ideas to help guide your teens as they seek to develop their own community:

  1. Create a community of adults that your child can talk to or spend time around. They can be all different ages and life stages, but they need to be a safe place where they are welcome, and loved, and can receive help and advice.
  2. Help youth identify their passion. Tell them what they are good at. Tell them what you see in them.  Encourage them to try out art, or music, or sports, or writing until they find their niche.
  3. Help teens find a place to serve. What are his/her interests? What do they want to explore? Who do they want to be around more? This could be in the context of a local non-profit or serving at a church. It could be a club/community group geared toward their interest. Community is built through service.
  4. Develop relationships with people from various cultures, religious backgrounds, and political belief systems. This allows the teens in your life to see that different people with different life experiences can all be at the same table.

 

Like with adults, community in adolescence doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work and showing up – something we as adults still need help our students with each day. But the benefits are worth it.  Youth who are plugged into a community, and who are serving there, have more opportunities to become successful, do better in school, and are more likely to believe that someone will be there for them if they need it.

Citizenship and Community are intertwined. How can you help the teen in your life find their place to live and serve?

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.

Repost: The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Repost: The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the first in a series of three blog posts that we released Summer 2017 regarding season one of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Subscribe to the Teen Life Podcast to catch our upcoming podcast series breaking down season two of the series. This is a great place to start though!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

13 Reasons Why is a wildly popular series on Netflix. While Netflix does not release viewing numbers, Variety reports that it was the most tweeted show of 2017 thus far, having received more than 11 million tweets within the first 4 weeks of its initial release. The show is based on Jay Asher’s book by the same name and details the events leading up to the suicide of Hannah Baker, with 13 tapes identifying someone who played a role in her decision.

The series starts with: “Hey, it’s Hannah, Hannah Baker. That’s right. Don’t adjust your… whatever device you’re listening to this on. It’s me, live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore. And this time absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. ‘Cause I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended.”

This Netflix series highlights several hot topics including: suicide, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and slut shaming. Be forewarned that it contains explicit language and several graphic scenes displaying sexual assault and suicide. Also, be aware that if you are parenting teens, then they probably have seen it or know about it, and so should you.

To start our series of blog posts, we wanted to discuss what 13 Reasons Why does well. We felt it was important to cover what issues are shown accurately in hopes that it makes you, as a parent or pastor, watch with eyes open to see what conversations you need to have with the students in your life, conversations held in private and without judgement. While not an easy watch, we hope these positive takeaways raise awareness of topics that are relevant for youth today. Our next blogs will cover what topics are missing in 13 Reasons Why and will provide a discussion about what should we do now.

13 Reasons Why accurately portrays several facets of life youth face daily. While there is some exaggeration, many of these scenes display an element of truth. Here are just a few of the things you can look for while watching the series:

  • 24/7 access to technology
  • The prevalence and speed at which cyberbullying happens
  • The students’ inability to disconnect, making them constantly vulnerable to online bullying
  • Confusion over sexual consent
  • Pressure to use alcohol and drugs combined with the likelihood of ending up in unintended, difficult situations
  • The difference in perception of sexual activity for males and females

Ultimately, all of these are tied together by the realization that hiding information will make it disappear or will allow youth to avoid consequences. At the end of the series, it shows the reality that hiding is much more difficult than being able to discuss the truth and take responsibility for your actions.

“What does [suicide] really look like? Here’s the scary thing: it looks like nothing . . . It feels like a deep, always blank, endless nothing.”

Hannah’s quote above, repeated at least twice during the series, reveals the truth that suicide does not have one specific look or feel. While there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of dying by suicide, it does not ever look or present the same. Our main take away from 13 Reasons Why is that even though suicide does not have a set appearance, little things can make a huge impact in a person’s daily life. As seen in the series, there are several moments that were brushed off as being unimportant or insignificant from the other students’ perspectives.

There are also several interactions with adults that were not handled appropriately, but on the surface, many of these seemed relatively minor. But Hannah, when telling her story, indicates that if even one of these moments had played out differently, it could have changed her decision to end her life by suicide.

As Hannah said herself, “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.”

No one can have a full awareness of another person’s story and struggle. We as adults need to model that every opportunity to treat someone with kindness and respect matters – that the little things can quickly become big things. And that is the main reason why we at Teen Life do what we do. Oftentimes, one hour a week seems insignificant in the scheme of a person’s life. However, we firmly believe that what happens in that one hour, or even in a single interaction, can impact the perspectives and lives of the youth we are privileged to serve. 13 Reasons Why begs you to be aware of how you treat others and how your actions can impact their lives. We’ll leave you to reflect on how you impact others with one last quote from Hannah, who maybe says it best:

I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue.”

To start a meaningful conversation with a teen you know, ask them, “Is there anything you have wanted to talk about recently that we just haven’t had the opportunity to discuss?” Share your ideas in the comments about ways you can invite meaningful conversation with the teens you work with. 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.