belizemap

Belize in the Lord with all your heart

today i’m flying to belize, a small country in central america. for some reason, not fully understood by me, i’ve always been curious about Belize. maybe it’s because it’s the only country in central america that has english as its official language. belize is on the gulf of mexico, with mexico to the north, and guatemala (a country i’ve been to a dozen times) to the west and south.

i’m not going on vacation. i’m going to see the work of Praying Pelican Missions. honestly, even though i’ve been in youth ministry since just after ronald reagan took office, i’d really not heard of PPM until a couple years ago. i mean, there sure are a lot of short term missions groups to choose from these days.

but after adam and i went to haiti with PPM last summer (see my posts from that trip here, here, here, here, and here), they have become my number one recommendation for youth groups doing international missions trips. i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done well. and i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done poorly. and i can truly say that i don’t know how i would improve on PPM’s approach. they form long-term relationships with existing ministries led by indigenous leaders. then they work to serve the vision and needs of those indigenous leaders, careful to not replace local workers, careful not to make the trip about the visiting americans, careful not to manipulate or mislead or run some version of ogling feel-good tourism. really, i was SO completely impressed by their work in haiti (and by the haitian leaders they serve and support).

belize welcomebelize is PPM’s oldest field. and while adam went to guatemala with PPM a month ago to see their newest work, i’m excited to see the work in a place where PPM has had relationships for a very long time. i’ll be meeting many belizian ministry leaders and pastors, and will be joining with a youth group on their own trip for a few days.

at the end of my time, i’m going to spend 24 hours out on caye caulker, by myself, resting, collecting my thoughts, and processing what i’ve experienced (and maybe snorkeling, since caye caulker has the second largest barrier reef in the world).

so, pray for me, primarily that i will really see what god wants me to see (including that i’ll see god at work). i’ll be blogging a few times while i’m there, so you can check back to read my impressions and thoughts and stirrings.

creativity

18 things highly creative people do differently

i recently found a link to an article that i’d sent myself via email 6 months ago. yeah, i have some strange ways of keeping track of things. deal with it.

really insightful and challenging article in huffpo about the 18 things highly creative people do differently. i think i’m somewhat creative; and i do some of the things on this list pretty regularly. but i would be exponentially more creative if i leaned into these babies a bit more. click through to read the whole article (it’s really worth it, and an easy read); but here’s a list of the 18 habits:

  1. They daydream.
  2. They observe everything.
  3. They work the hours that work for them.
  4. They take time for solitude.
  5. They turn life’s obstacles around.
  6. They seek out new experiences.
  7. They “fail up.”
  8. They ask the big questions.
  9. They people-watch.
  10. They take risks.
  11. They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.
  12. They follow their true passions.
  13. They get out of their own heads.
  14. They lose track of the time.
  15. They surround themselves with beauty.
  16. They connect the dots.
  17. They constantly shake things up.
  18. They make time for mindfulness.
lonely boy.2

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 9

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions
and part 5: a world of paradoxes
and part 6: process trumps content
and part 7: self-centered and perpetual now
and part 8: when to “back off” on parenting
(btw: this is the last installment. enough already, right?)

lonely boyQuestion: Our middle school grade son seems to have no real friendships. And I’m not even sure he wants them. Is this normal? Are there things my husband and I should be doing?

First, it’s important to know that this is a very normal situation for a young teen boy. In fact, it has become substantially more common over the past decade or so. So, your son isn’t “abnormal” on this one. It’s normal and natural for a young teen, even one who had friends as a child, to struggle as they move (a developmentally normal and good move) from forming friendships based on proximity (“You and I are friends because we live near each other or spend a lot of time in the same place”) to forming friendships based on affinity (“You and I are friends because we like the same things, or have the same values”).

But, that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy situation. As a youth worker, it’s been one of greatest new concerns I’ve had for my students in the last ten years. Boys, particularly (girls also, but to a lesser degree), are not learning the skills of friendship. Historically, I don’t think we thought of children and teenagers as needing these skills–friendship just came naturally to them! But today’s 10 – 14 year old is so often isolated, they’ve not learned the skills of friendship in their day-to-day lives.

Boys are naturally less expressive than girls (especially at this age). And our culture has told them “the strong, silent type” is a great male archetype. Even the U.S. Army, which, ironically has learned – out in the field – that soldiers can only succeed in teams, has been advertising this notion like crazy for a several years with their “Army of One” campaign.

Add to these cultural notions the fact that today’s young teens have reaped most parents’ desire to “cocoon”, by having a house-full (or more likely these days, a bedroom-full) of toys intended for solo use: television or laptop, video-gaming systems, music players. Not that these things are all bad. But the fairly normal overuse of them has greatly contributed to this “loner” trend.

So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:

• Encourage friendship groups. Often, the safest place for a boy to learn about friendship is in a group, not in a one-on-one friendship. Hopefully, one of the best places for this is in a healthy and active middle school program at your church. I know many parents who have chosen their church based on this factor alone!

• Service potential friendships. When you see any spark of potential friendship for your son, find ways to subtely encourage that spark. This doesn’t mean talking about it like crazy! (that will only lead to retreat for most boys.) Instead, offer to drive them somewhere; suggest fun ideas for excursions and make them possible. Also, make sure you home is a “safe” place for your son to have a friend over: a place where he won’t be embarrassed or treated like a little kid in front of his friends.

• Encourage your son, but don’t nag. When your son spends time with a friend (or potential friend), say something positive–but keep it short and sweet. Lengthy speeches will feel like pressure or nagging, and will backfire on you.

• Pray like crazy!

old marko

how to become a veteran youth worker

old markorecently, a youth worker messaged me, asking for insight in how to last in youth ministry. i think the actual question was, “how does one survive in youth ministry and become a veteran youth worker?”

my response. your thoughts? additions?

After 33 years in youth ministry, there are a few things i’m seeing about survival and thriving as a veteran:

  1. My passion and calling hasn’t changed, but my role and relationships have to grow and change with age. As a young youth worker, I was in an “older brother” relationship with teenagers. In my 30s, my relationship with them was like that of an uncle. These days, I really am a sort of surrogate parent. I need to exercise wisdom about how to maximize the opportunities that provides and be cautious of the limitations. Nothing is more lame than a 50 year-old youth worker trying to pretend that he’s 23 years old.
  2. I have also needed to see my vision and role shift in relationship to other workers. As I got more experience (and years!), I find that some of my best ministry is equipping and empowering younger youth workers. Veteran youth workers often move into a role of multiplication, seeing my ministry calling mostly lived out through youth ministry volunteers who are half my age. I don’t want to lose touch with actual teenagers, so I stay in relationship with teens also; but my greatest impact is through others.
  3. I’ve had to learn to say “no.” At my age, there are simply aspects of youth ministry that I am not best equipped for, or not interested in doing.
  4. Finally–and this is true for youth workers of all ages, but no one will become a veteran youth worker without learning this–I have to realize that being in youth ministry does not mean that my soul will be taken care of. If i’m not intentional about continued spiritual growth in my life, I’ll either burn out or have nothing meaningful and authentic to offer.
young teen and parent

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 8

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions
and part 5: a world of paradoxes
and part 6: process trumps content
and part 7: self-centered and perpetual now

young teen and parentQuestion: When should I start to back off and be less engaged in actively parenting my young teen?

In one sense (and you all know this), you’re never done being a parent. I still seek out advice from my parents, and I’m 51. And of course, parenting teenagers has stretched well into (and sometimes through) the 20something years in most cases. Adolescence has extended on both ends of its age delineators.

But I have a couple theories I’d like to suggest you consider reality…

First, you should make this assumption: by the time your child is in high school, most of your parenting is done. That’s not to say that you still don’t have a very important role in her life–you do! But it’s normally a bit late to “change course.” Parenting an older teen (or young 20something) is more about “staying the course.” It’s more about continuing to model what you’ve already set in place.

You might be thinking, I’m can barely catch my breath, and I’m supposed to start thinking about the high school years? Fair enough. But the reality I just proposed adds significant weight to this next reality:

You’re on the last lap. Or, maybe the second-to-last lap.

These tender years of 9 – 11 (pre-teen) and 11 – 14 (young teen) are some of the most formative years of life. Kids are still extremely moldable, changeable, open. But as they settle into their mid-teen, change come less and less often. This is why I always joke with middle school ministry workers that we are still in “preventive ministry”, while high school work is often “corrective ministry.”

What does a long-distance runner do in the final lap or two? Think of the finish line. Calibrate what needs to take place in this diminishing space. Then recalibrate. Continue to pace yourself and recalibrate again.

Don’t forget these two extremely important facts:

  1. You are still the #1 influence in the life of your child at this age.
  2. The almost-absurd amount of change going on in the life of your young teen places them at a small timeframe of massive malleability (yes, I realize it doesn’t always seem that way – but it’s true).

These two facts combine to make these final laps of the parenting race some of the most important of your God-given role.

So don’t throw in the towel. Don’t concede. Don’t abdicate your role to the church or culture or your young teen’s peer group. Let God fill your lungs with a fresh air of strength and courage. And take another step. And another.

18 UG9ydHJhaXQgb2YgYm95XzMyLmpwZw==

childlike

“I am cherry alive,” the little girl sang,
“each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
as the boys who made the hallowe’en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
when I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
and I want to be everything sometimes too:

childlikebut I don’t tell the grown-ups; because it is sad,
and I want them to laugh just like I do
because they grew up and forgot what they knew
and they are sure I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong. When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold, I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me, I will always be new!”

–Delmore Schwartz (quoted in exuberance, by Kay Redfield Jamison)


hey, youth workers: don’t get so caught up in the frenzy of summer programs that you forget to be childlike.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

jesus-walking-on-water-kinda

the real jesus

Yeezus or Sheezus, whatevs. My own images of Jesus haven’t been much better. Here’s my latest column from Youthwork Magazine (UK), where I unpack that a bit:

The Real Jesus

I grew up in church, a mostly-good kid and all. Sunday School every week from the day I left the nursery. So I heard my share of Bible stories; I heard my share of Jesus stories.

One of my favorites was always the story of Jesus walking on the water. I can still picture—I mean, really, I have the picture in my mind right now—the flannel graph images of Jesus hovercrafting in his pretty blue robe across a glassy bit o’ blue. (Flannel graph, by the way, was the archetypal Sunday school teaching technology back in the day: little die-cut foreground figures—people, boats, the occasional tree—with a felt backing that quickly and neatly stuck to flannel backgrounds with various nondescript Bibleland topographies. My mother-in-law still possesses one of the world’s most complete collections of mint-condition flannel graph paraphernalia. Seriously, her stuff should become the main attraction in a Sunday school museum someday.)

jesus on the water, croppedBack to the hovercrafting Jesus…

In my frozen mental image, Jesus is white and nicely coiffed (seriously, when we reinvented Jesus as white, I’m surprised no one thought to reinvent his hair into a more church-y level of appropriateness—maybe a nice TV-evangelist-combover). And he’s scooching (seriously, “hovercrafting” is the best word I can think of) in the middle of day, across an idyllically calm body of water. Sometimes, in my childhood image, he has one hand raised halfway, about chest-high, in either a sort of blessing, or a casual wave (“Hey, dudes, relax, it’s me.”).

I’m sure that by the time I reached my teens, I knew this flannel-backed image of Jesus walking on the water wasn’t quite accurate. But there it simmered, percolating in my spiritual subconscious.

I’m sure that, during my time at a Christian college and graduate school, I at least knew that Jesus wasn’t white, would have walked rather than hovercrafting, and a few other tweaks. But I didn’t let that spoil my childhood picture.

I’m even sure that after years of being a youth worker and telling this story, I knew that there were more inaccuracies—like the status of the water (I clearly remember a retreat speaker I’d hired doing the single worst rap I’d ever heard in my life about how the boat was buffeted by the ways: b-b-b-buffeted… b-b-b-buffeted.).

But I allowed my childhood image to exist, encased behind psychic Plexiglas in the museum of my mind.

I remember—the experience more than the time and place—finally realizing, well into adulthood and professional Christianing, that the text clearly says the whole water-walking thing took place in the middle of the night (on a stormy night, at that). Of course, that would make a boring flannel graph, since you wouldn’t be able to see anything. And the water: it wasn’t smooth and flat. These expert sailors, the disciples, couldn’t get the boat back into land because a massive wind storm had come up, and the waves were so big they were smashing the boat away from shore (b-b-b-buffeted). This is the water Jesus walked on.

So much for hovercrafting. Now I have to picture the real, dark-skinned, Middle Eastern Jesus, climbing his way through the peaks and troughs of a wild sea storm. His clothing would have been drenched from spray. His hair would have been blown all over the place (where’s a good hair-tie when you need one?). Now the scene looks more like a pitch-black episode of extreme bouldering (on water!), or, like an X Games-at-night rollerblade competition, with Jesus grinding down the “rail” of one wave, hopping to the next, and dropping down into a trough to set up for his next trick.

Crash! The psychic Plexiglas around my childhood image is finally smashed. And now I can begin the reconstructive task of observing the real Jesus.

On a much bigger scale, and with lots more stories, this is part of our youth work task: smashing the psychic Plexiglas encasing teenagers’ false images and ideas of Jesus, whether they grew up hearing Jesus stories in church or not. It’s a noble work of deconstruction and reconstruction. Some might even say “re-imagining”.

While teenagers’ thoughts and pictures of Jesus are from childhood, or from some other phase of their lives, whether they have lots of ideas about Jesus, or only what they’ve heard through hearsay, most of them have some seriously jacked-up ideas about who Jesus was and is, and what he did and does.

Let’s pull the hammers out of our leather youth work tool belts and engage in a bit of museum-image smashing. Let’s lead teenagers on an honest, blunt, even surprising expedition toward meeting the real Jesus.

self centered

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 7

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions
and part 5: a world of paradoxes
and part 6: process trumps content

Question: Why is my middle schooler suddenly so self-centered? It seems like she thinks the whole world revolves around her!

This is an almost universal issue with preteens and young teens. Consequently, the frustration parents and youth workers experience is also almost universal! Young teens who were, just months ago, generous and outward-focused turn into themselves and become seemingly obsessed with themselves and incapable of noticing others.

kind of a big dealEverything’s about me!

Self-centeredness is a natural fungus on the tree of development. Your preteen might still have a shred of others-focus; but it will disappear soon! The almost-crazy amount of change going on in the lives of young teens (11 – 14 year olds), draws every remaining bit of noticing others in on itself. Almost all young teens (and older preteens) see themselves at the center of the universe.

For example: if you walk across the back of a crowded classroom (or, say, church service), you will try to be quiet as to not distract–but you won’t assume people paying attention and facing the opposite direction are noticing you. Not so with young teens. In the same situation, they’ll assume that everyone in the room is watching them (apparently through the back of their heads!) and evaluating their every move.

This self-centeredness is natural, but that doesn’t mean parents should just ignore it. There are many ways to counter this; but I’ve found that the absolute best antidote is experience–experience that forces their attention off of themselves. Give them experiences serving others in need (through a day helping at a soup-kitchen, or a family mission trip, or other service projects). For a preteen, this establishes a pattern of noticing others’ needs. For a young teen, it can create a small opportunity for noticing that the world is more than themselves (and that will work like yeast, spreading into their worldview).

straightawayEverything’s now!

A related issue is how “in the moment” preteens and young teens seem to live. If you ask their favorite movie of all time, they’ll answer the one they saw last week. They don’t have a sense of the past (and I’m talking about their own past, not anything grander than that!), and often don’t have a sense of the future either.

Think of it this way: as an adult, you’re making decisions on the road of life. And you can look in the rearview mirror and see the long straightaway behind you, including the choices of life. You can also look at the long straightaway ahead of you, and get a sense of what’s to come. But preteens and young teens are on a sharp curve in the road of life (the curve of transition and developmental change). The rearview mirror doesn’t show much; and the front view is a blind curve.

This can be maddening for parents. Ask speculation questions about the future to help your child begin to see more of the road (he won’t naturally do this on his own). Share your own thoughts about the future (as well as the past).

And remember, the curve in the road–with its self-centeredness and “all is now” perspectives–will pass. This is the normal stuff of young teen development; and it’s the plan God designed for your child to go through at this time of life!


By the way, I unpack this more (and a bunch of other stuff about early adolescent development) in my book Understanding Your Young Teen.

lost and found 2

book now for the Lost And Found farewell tour!

for their 30th year of performing together (2015), the wonderful and unique band Lost And Found are doing something… interesting: a farewell tour. in other words, they’ve decided to make 2015 the last year of touring for the band.

lost and foundif you’ve ever seen Lost And Found live, you know: the music and is good and fun and meaningful; but the real magic of this band–the reason people love seeing them over and over again–is their live shows. they are one of the only bands i know that can be, and are, equally loved by people in any stage of life (children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged peeps and older folk). their lyrics have the spiritual depth one might expect from two lutheran boys; their songs swing from beautiful and sparse to quirky and riotous. and they engage an audience like no band i’ve ever seen (really, i’m not exaggerating).

so, i could not encourage you strongly enough–if you’re running a youth event in 2015, or want to host a multi-generational event at your church–Lost And Found will be a win for you.

website (speedwood.com)
email ‘em here.
phone number: 419.897-9792

and check out this video: