A while back, I received a text from one of our volunteers asking to meet in person. This particular person was an influential volunteer for Teen Life and had been really active with us in the past. But I felt like something was up. This person was always someone who communicated more over text and email and rarely, if ever, asked to meet in person. It turns out I was right. My friend had ended up losing their job suddenly and was asking for prayers and any guidance on finding new work related to their field. I really felt bad for my friend. Part of what we talk about in Teen Life volunteer trainings is the idea of using our intuition as a listening device.
*This post was written by one of our facilitators, Sarah Brooks. Sarah is a blogger, mom of 3 boys and social media expert! She has spoken across the country at various groups, churches, and schools about social media (the good, the bad, and the confusing), most of which stemmed from a post she wrote called Parents: A Word About Instagram. Sarah currently facilitates a High School Support Group in Fort Worth ISD.*
I had a mild panic attack the morning I was set to lead my first Teen Life group. When I started looking over lesson one, I was shocked by how personal the discussion questions were. There was no building rapport, no easing in to sensitive topics with these people. No – right out of the gate, they expect me to walk into a group of teenagers I’ve never seen before, teenagers who are presumably hurting and/or experiencing significant life crisis, and ask questions like, “On a scale from 1-10, how do you feel about yourself?” and “How much do you feel others care about you?” For real??
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.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the final concert of Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. Now this is not a post about Taylor Swift herself, but her newest album tackles an interesting topic that teenagers and young adults are identifying with everywhere – reputation. Whether for good or for bad, your reputation impacts how others look at you, treat you, speak to you, or think about you. In the world we live in today, reputation follows teens everywhere. It is on social media, and it keeps them up at night through texts and pictures. Can you imagine? Used to, in order to control your reputation, you just had to get to people with your version of the story before anyone else. Now, anyone can write the narrative for you – through social media posts or a text, or an unfortunate picture or video. It is enough to give you nightmares!
*This post was written by one of our facilitators, Josh Hardcastle. Before moving back to Abilene in 2016, Josh facilitated groups in Keller ISD. Now, Josh is the High School Youth Minister at Southern Hills Church in Abilene, TX where he lives with his wife, Whitney, and their two sons. Teen Life is so thankful for the way Josh pours into the lives of students!*
I’ve been in ministry for a little over 5 years. I’ve seen successful and connected students come through my ministries, and I’ve seen disconnected and lonely students as well. I saw students coming in to our class time on Sunday mornings 5 minutes after I would start teaching and bolt as soon as I finished with the final, “Amen” of class. It broke my heart when I realized something: they didn’t have a consistent person investing and pouring into them.
One of the best parts of working with a non-profit is the people who support your cause. Obviously, we love working with teenagers – serving them is why we got into this! But there is a whole other side of our organization that makes our jobs all that more enjoyable – our supporters. One time a year, we all get together for an evening to celebrate what has happened with Teen Life over the past year and to fund what is to come. This last Tuesday we had our fourth annual Teen Life Dinner & Auction in Southlake, TX. Almost 200 of our advocates and new supporters gathered in a room to celebrate 10 years of Teen Life and dream about what is to come. And, what a night it was – we raised almost $68,000!
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.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a huge problem. My son, Sawyer, was refusing to go to sleep at night. Overnight, he went from going to bed in minutes to standing up in his crib, screaming unless he was being held. Until this time, we have been spoiled by his sleeping habits, so when they suddenly changed, I was desperate. After a couple of nights of rocking him every 15 minutes and then eventually crawling in his crib until he fell asleep, I asked for help. I asked good friends, my mom, and even put it out on Instagram to get the advice and wisdom from my fellow mom friends. This is not something I often do, but after all the great wisdom I got, I wondered, “Why don’t I usually ask for advice or help?” Other than your spouse or very best friend, how often do you share trials, struggles and doubts with the people in your circle?
Some days ago, I sat with my wife after a frustrating series of events unfolded with my kids where I likely handled things poorly as a dad. As anyone who is a parent can attest to, there are times that you don’t quite line up to where you would like, and those times can draw you into reflection. As we sat, she calmly asked me a series of questions that revealed my frustrations were not at all with my kids, but with some other things that were completely out of my control – and I was likely just taking it out on the kids. Like I said, dad fail. My wife is so good for me because she is willing to sit down after the fact and talk through what happened – kind of like a coach. And when I might get too frustrated or become short with my kids, it is often times because I am not aware of how I am feeling at the moment. Being a parent is hard.
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. 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.