Category Archives: family


Zydeco Mass

my family attended an amazing, joy-filled Zydedo Mass eucharist service tuesday night with some friends, at st. paul’s episcopal church in san diego. it was an absolutely beautiful and unique worship experience. i captured some of it in short videos and photos. here’s a taste:

my family and a friend (not a video):

the processional

reading of scripture:

reading of the gospel (not a video):

“dance your offerings to the front”:


the washboard player was one of the only people who didn’t seem amused; but he was awesome in his own curmudgeonly way (not a video):

the recessional:

experiential, joy-filled worship, man. couldn’t all our churches use a bit more of that!?


in september of 1983, near the beginning of a 2-year break i took between my sophomore and junior years of college, i walked into the lobby of michigan oven company with my drafting portfolio under my arm, ready for a job interview. the receptionist was cute, and i was fairly convinced our flirtation proved my charm (she later told me her only impression was that my suit looked dorky).

flash forward to january 4, 1986: we got married.

yup: 27 years ago today, i felt my knees buckle when jeannie appeared at the back of the aisle. she still makes my knees buckle. and i love her more than my 22-year-old self knew was possible.

here’s jeannie and me, looking very young, while visiting universal studios in california, in the summer of 1985.

marko and jeannie.1985

2012 in review

marko 2012seriously, it was a great year. a busy year. even frenetic at times. but a deeply good year.

this being my last blog post of the year, i thought i’d take a few minutes to look in the rear view mirror. as this post goes live on my blog, my wife (jeannie) and son (max) and i will be in the air on our way to london. this is a very unique thing for us, spending christmas in london! i’m 49 years old, and i have never spent a single christmas season in any location other than detroit, michigan, with my family and jeannie’s family. jeannie has never had a christmas away from her parents either. my two kids (liesl is almost 19, max just turned 15) only know christmas with extended families in detroit.

but liesl is on a gap year trip. she and her friend stephanie spent the last three months in ireland (and the month before that in england). on january 3, the day after we fly home, liesl and steph fly to india for three more months. so we splurged. we cashed in a boatload of airline miles and booked jeannie and max’s tickets using those. a london youth worker friend of mine found an extremely gracious family to give us their home for free while they’re traveling over the holidays (we’re “cat-sitting!). we even have a little side-trip planned to wales, and another british friend hooked us up with friends of his who are letting us use their welsh seaside cabin for a few bucks to offside utilities. it’s still a splurge — considering food and fun. but it seemed worth it. and i can’t wait to see my little girl.

oh, and potential robbers: we have house-sitters at our place. so don’t even think of it.

now, for that look back.


we haven’t had such a significant year in our family life for a long time. highlights:

  • in the spring, liesl got accepted to a couple of the colleges she’d applied to, and declared for university of redlands (but deferred for one year).
  • in june, max graduated from middle school.
  • a day later, liesl graduated from high school.
  • the day after that, liesl left for a summer job at a camp.
  • at the end of the summer, jeannie finished the two years of course work for her master’s degree in psychology.
  • in early september, liesl left for 7 months in england, ireland, and india (with a few weeks on the front end of immigration hassles and plan-adjustment-panic).
  • that same week, max started high school.
  • a week later, jeannie started her practicum (basically an unpaid 3/4 job, counseling in the domestic abuse section of a community services agency).
  • toss in a wonderful family vacation in washington state during spring break, a family wedding in detroit in may (liesl and i went), a family wedding in colorado at the end of july (liesl, jeannie and i went), and a nice august week with friends at a home in lake arrowhead, california.

in many ways, i feel like i was the family member with the least eventful year (which was probably a nice change for all of us!)

personal stuff

i doubt i will ever again publish as much as i did in 2012:

beardy, decemberin addition to that absurd glut of books, i wrote three columns on middle school ministry for Youthworker Journal, 6 columns for Youthwork Magazine (UK), and probably another one or two articles i’m not remembering.

i also had about 28 speaking engagements, including:

  • youth worker training events in five countries
  • youth events across the US
  • and a nice handful of parent training seminars

at my church, i continued my weekly leadership of a small group of middle school guys (now 7th graders). i preached once in “big church,” and was involved here and there in other ways.

oh, and my beard got its own personality, as well as it’s own facebook page and twitter feed.

The Youth Cartel

since adam had just joined me in the last few months of 2011, 2012 was really a massive year of growth for The Youth Cartel. it really felt like it went from me doing my little stuff, to being a real start-up. we’re running at about 110%, and just hope that the two of us don’t become limitations to continued growth.

the year included:

  • three events: Open Seattle, the Middle School Ministry Campference, and The Summit, all of which were big wins and so much fun.
  • the launch of The Youth Cartel publishing line. we’d gone way down the road with multiple publishers about doing this as a partnership, but in the end, just decided to run at it ourselves. we released four titles this year: Good News in the Neighborhood, The Youth Cartel’s Unauthorized Dictionary of Youth Ministry, Masterpiece, and Leading Up. each was a labor of love, and would not have happened without a team of wonderful friends and editors and great authors.
  • photo (6)

  • late in the year, it was obvious that we were getting over our heads on the publishing thing, and added anne jackson as our very-part-time managing editor. she’s allowing me to breath.
  • our email lists have grown to over 3000 youth workers. these include product and event lists, as well as the popular YouTube You Can Use and Cartel Culture.
  • we’ve seen steady growth on facebook and twitter, which has been fun. and our fledgling blog made it to #14 on the list of top 25 youth ministry blogs.
  • we developed amazing partnerships with a whole bunch of great organizations. they are such an encouragement to us.
  • we loved serving a bunch of consulting clients. many of these are adam’s babies, and focus mostly on web development and social media help. but others — from biblica to world vision to thomas nelson publishers to a couple denominational groups have been shared efforts.
  • we launched our online store, and have been pleased with the traction so far.
  • the Youth Ministry Coaching Program had an amazing year. i had cohorts of youth workers meeting in san diego, nashville, winston-salem, and san antonio. and i lead a custom version for a handful of staff at a church in detroit. this month, i launched two beta-test groups of a new online version. and in early january i start a new nashville cohort.

i’m sure i’m leaving some stuff out. but that’s the bulk of the stuff for The Youth Cartel in 2012.

in summary

yup. it was an amazing year. i’m thankful to my god. i’m in love with my family. and i’m deeply happy and full of hope.

ok, 2013: bring it on!

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media

i’m really pleased with how the “Parent’s Guide” series i developed for Simply Youth Ministry is unfolding. three of the five titles have released previously:
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls, which i co-authored with brooklyn lindsey
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys, which i co-authored with brock morgan
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains, which i wrote all by my big-boy self

and A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating (co-authored with joel mayward) should release around february 1, i think.

but the fourth book in the series just released, and i think it’s going to be very, very helpful to lots of moms and dads (and, youth workers, frankly). introducing: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media (btw: there’s a free downloadable sample at that link). i co-authored this one with my partner in crime, adam mclane (and let’s be honest: you all know that with this topic, he did the heavy lifting in terms of writing. if i were writing a social media book all by myself, it would probably be called “how to offend people when you think you’re being mysterious online, how to host a twitter feed for facial hair, and how to blog about weird nativities, all to the glory of god, of course.”).

like all the books in this series, it’s very short and to the point. but don’t make the wrong assumption that the content must, therefore, be lightweight. this little baby is much more than “teenagers like to text” and “have you heard of facebook?” really, i learned SO much co-authoring this with adam because the dude knows his stuff. in other words, i think youth workers would benefit from this just as much as parents.

here’s the back cover copy:

With each passing day, teenagers’ lives become increasingly intertwined with social media. How can you as a parent stay informed and involved in healthy ways? How can you help your son or daughter make wise decisions and remain safe online?

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media will equip you to have meaningful conversations with your teenager about the best, wisest ways to get connected while staying safe.

Your guides for this journey are Mark Oestreicher and Adam McLane, who draw from their own wells of experience as parents and youth workers. They’ll help you chart a course toward discovering and practicing wise family online activity.

check out this nice amazon review that got posted by “tim” yesterday:

As someone in youth ministry who is fairly “connected” with social media, I started the book a bit skeptical of it teaching me anything new but read it to see if it would be good to pass on to the parents of teenagers I know. Not only would I recommend this book to all parents of teenagers, but I found myself learning things I didn’t know before and gaining new insights into the world of social media that not only relate to teens but my online activity as well.

A book about technology and what’s popular runs the risk of getting outdated quickly but the principles in this book can be applied to whatever is popular online at any time.


  • if you’re a parent, get a copy (and maybe another copy for a friend)
  • if you’re a youth worker, get a copy for yourself (there are very few youth workers who won’t learn something new in this)
  • or, if you’re a youth worker, consider getting a dozen or two (they’re SUPER cheap), and hosting a conversation with a group of parents in your church.

click here to see more, download the free sample, or order the physical or digital version.

Liesl and Max answers Josh Griffin’s questions about 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents

you probably know already that i wrote a book earlier this year with my two teenage kids, liesl and max. it’s called 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents: Living the Sweet Life at Home.

but yesterday on his blog, josh griffin hosted a little Q&A with my kids about the book. i loved their answers, so asked josh if i could post them also.

Q&A about 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents
With Liesl Oestreicher and Max Oestreicher

Marko: Liesl and Max really did write these answers, just like they really did write the book with me (they wrote 100% of these answers, and about 70% of the book). Btw: Liesl is 18 – she graduated from HS last spring, and I currently on a gap-year, living in Ireland at the moment, and heading to India in January. Max is 14 (turns 15 in a week), and a freshman in HS.

Josh: OK, first off tell us about YOU!

Max: Drums + ukulele + bacon = Max Oestreicher

Liesl: I’m a dirty hippy, loving trees one hug at a time.

Josh: OK, now … what’s up with your dad’s beard?

Max: I think he should go pro.

Liesl: Babies and old, senile women enjoy grabbing and stroking it. It’s true, I’ve seen both happen.

Josh: The book is awesome – how did it come about?

Max: My dad wanted me and my sister to write a book about how cool he is. At first i refused, and then he told me i’d get paid.

Liesl: I was sitting in a forest, writing my autobiography, when a glowing figure approached me. The figure told me He was God, who had come down in human form to tell me something. He told me that He had peeked at what I was writing and that it was very good, that it even exceeded the work of the great Mark Oestreicher. He then told me that He wanted me to write a book for teenagers, just like me, about how to get along with their parents. And, of course, I gratefully accepted.
I don’t know, maybe I imagined that. Now that I think about it, my dad just sent me an email one day that said my brother and I were going to write a book and we were going to get paid for it.

Josh: What’s one thing that teenagers can do to change the game for the relationship they have with their parents?

Max: When you are getting in an argument/fight/disagreement with your parents, don’t get defensive. Respectfully communicate your point of view, and then listen to their’s.

Liesl: Respect their opinions. If you don’t, how do you expect them to respect yours?
…or you can just move to Ireland, like I did.

Josh: Tell us a story about when your parents screwed up. Make me laugh!

Max: My parent lost me at Disney World when I was three. They let go of my hand and I decided I wanted to go see KIng Louie.

Liesl: Once my mom and I were on a snowmobile on a family vacation. My mom accidentally went too close to a little dip and our snowmobile rolled over sideways. We couldn’t get up on our own, so before he helped us, my dad laughed as he took pictures.

Josh: Who do you love more – mom or dad? What do you value most about them?

Max: I think my mom is just ok, but compare her to my dad and she’s amazing.

Liesl: I would say my mom, but my dad is more likely to see this, so… definitely my dad.

Josh: You have the attention of a TON of youth workers – what would you say to them about their jobs/roles/calling?

Max: I think youth workers should give a lot of opportunities to get involved in a leadership roles as this has been very meaning full to me.

Liesl: It is really encouraging to here your life stories, especially the times when you screwed up. It shows us (teenagers in your youth group) that it is a safe place to admit to our faults when you do the same.


that’s the end of josh’s interview, but let me add a couple things.

first: one of the creative youth workers in my youth ministry coaching program recently told me about a very cool way she used the book. she took a single copy, cut the spine off (so all the pages were loose), and handed out each section (there are 6 or 7 sections) to a group of teenagers in her group. the groups read their sections, then made a presentation to the whole youth group, highlighting their own takes on a few of the ideas for improving their relationships with their parents.

and, here’s a goofy little video i shot for simply youth ministry when i was at their offices in august!

the parenting pendulum

throughout history, children have been variously treated, by their societies (and, at a level more close to home, by their parents) as either miniature adults, or large babies. of course, those are extremes, and often the pendulum swing is somewhere at a more moderated place.

for much of the last couple centuries, parents, and culture at large, have mostly been viewing teenagers as junior-sized adults. they were given freedoms and responsibilities by the bushel-full. they were provided ample opportunities to exercise their fledgling sense of self and their sporadicly effective abstract thinking ability. the freedoms given them by parents, combined with the limitations of their own brain development (particularly in the areas of decision making, prioritization, risk analysis, and impulse control) caused them to quickly and effectively learn boundaries, particularly as they were granted the freedom to fail, to learn from stepping over the line (as opposed to merely be “protected” from the line, or told about the line).

i started noticing that pendulum swinging the other way more than a decade ago. but — holy cow — that swing has picked up insane inertia. we seem to be living in a period of time when culture, media, parents, schools, the legal system, and all sorts of other leverage providers are encouraging each other on (unknowingly — acting as each others’ accelerators) toward pushing the pendulum to a wild extreme.

bottom line: today’s teenagers (and young adults) are being treated like children more than they have been for hundreds of years; maybe more than they ever have been in any era.

this shift is increasing in speed. i see it all over the place (you will also, if you start looking for it):

  • articles and tv shows and news reports that refer to 16 – 19 year-olds as “children”
  • the same sources referring to young adults, clearly well into their 20s, as “teenagers” (how can a 21 or 22 year old be called a “teenager” by any definition of the word, even if extended adolescence has them in a post-teenage, not-yet-adult pergatorial state of developmental limbo?).
  • parents removing all meaningful responsibility from the lives of their teenaged children, in an effort to “protect” them, allowing them to stay “innocent” and “care-free” longer (i’m putting quotes around all these words because they’re so unfulfilled and misguided).
  • parents removing consequences of poor choices, with the subtle logic that “children are innocent, and shouldn’t be help responsible for actions they don’t fully understand.” by the way, this logic has caused gradual upward movement in the age of responsibility we enforce on children — what used to be an accountability that came after 7 years old (really), then 12 years old, was — for many years — at the 18 year-old mark. but that’s going away now also. ask an HR director or supervisor of young 20somethings if they’ve had parents call in to explain why their 24 year-old will be late to work.

i’m not sure it’s fair to blame parents. i’m a parent of two teenagers. or, i should say: i’m the parent of one teenager (max, 14), and one young adult (liesl, 18), or aspiring adult, or apprentice adult. if liesl is really a child, i probably shouldn’t be letting her trudge around the uk at this moment, as she is. in fact, later this week she and a friend start a 14 day coast-to-coast hike across england with nary an adult in site, unless you count the two of them.

but i digress. i don’t want to blame parents, though i wish they would stand up more against the cultural pressure that tells them they’re bad parents if they don’t smother, over-protect, remove responsibility and consequences. i wish they would stand up more to the cultural pressure jump on that danged swinging pendulum and treat their teenagers like children, their young adults as teenagers.

i’m going to do what i can to slow the currently increasing momentum of that pendulum. i’m going to gently instruct parents about this stuff (i’m amazed how quickly they agree with me and suddenly feel empowered, when i’m asked to lead parent seminars). i’m going to continue ranting about it here, in direct and non-direct ways. heck, i think i really need to write a book about this at some point (i had a full-blown proposal that barna considered co-authoring with me; but, alas, he passed).

so, it’s another title i’m going to take: parenting pendulum preventer. yup, i like it. triple-p, baby — that’s me! i might not be able to stop that thing; but i’m going to point it out, and get a handful of parents to jump off. maybe with that weight gone, the inertia will, even a tiny bit, decelerate.

99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents

with my daughter, liesl, starting her 9-month gap year experience in europe and india, and with my son, max, starting high school last week, my kids have been on my mind quite a bit. so, it’s funny that i forgot to announce here on my blog that the three of us — me, liesl and max — wrote a book that recently released!

it was a blast writing a book with my kids. we went on a 3-day retreat to my silent place in the california desert and framed the whole thing, getting some of it written. then we came back to it a month or so later on a vacation and spent a few more days. they really did write a big chunk of it, and we all spoke into each other’s writing, tweaking and plussing.

anyhow: it’s a book for teenagers, in simply youth ministry’s “99 thoughts” line. it’s available anywhere you buy books, but we’re selling it on The Youth Cartel store, of course. parents, order one for your teenager! youth workers, pick up a case!

here’s the back cover copy:

99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents: Living the Sweet Life at Home

Liesl and Max Oestreicher aren’t perfect teenagers, and they’re the first to admit it. They get in trouble, they fight with their parents (and each other), and they frustrate their teachers from time to time.

But they do have something that a lot of teenagers really wish they had: a better than average relationship with their parents.

99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents is filled with ideas from this sister-and-brother duo on having fun as a family, appreciating why moms and dads do what they do, and finding the best ways to handle arguments and disagreements with your parents. (They’ll also divulge a few secrets about rules, independence, and getting permission!)

Even though the teenage years aren’t easy, you’ll find that a little bit of patience, understanding, and communication will go a long way toward experiencing a more solid relationship with your parents, and Liesl and Max are ready to be your guides along the way!

there she goes

the next seven days feel like the most significant change in my family life in a very, very long time. in fact, i can’t remember what would have trumped this, all the way back to one of the kids being born.

tomorrow (wednesday), max starts high school.
next week, jeannie starts the practicum for her MA in counseling. she’ll be returning to the work force (even though she won’t be paid) for the first time since she was pregnant with liesl, more than 18 years ago.
in the next 10 days, i’ll be in san antonio, phoenix, and winston-salem; but there’s nothing really new about that.
but the biggie is that liesl leaves tomorrow for 9 months abroad (england, scotland and india).

last night, our house was packed with liesl’s friends (and a few of ours) for a going away party. we played “pin liesl on the country” (pin the tail on the donkey, but with liesl’s face attached to a pin, and a world map with the countries she’ll be in highlighted), musical chairs (with music from the countries she’s going to), and busted a piñata in the shape of a ship. plus: a pasta bar, dessert bar (under a sign that said “Liesl is desserting us”), a slide show of liesl pics, and a ton of hugs

i’m still not sure what i’m feeling about liesl heading out. it’s such a complex jumble of emotions. i’m excited for her, of course. i strongly believe it’s going to be a substantially formative year. she and a friend are traveling together. they’ll spend a week or so being tourists in london before heading north to walk the 14-day coast-to-coast hike. october through december will have them in scotland, working in an after school program being started by a local church of scotland. january through march, they’ll be 90 minutes south of chennai, india, working on a reforestation and water conservation project. then, april and may of next year, they’ll be back in england, working on an organic farm during the week, and exploring the UK on weekends.

of course, there’s plenty for a dad to be nervous about. they are two 18 girls heading off on their own. they know some of their plans; but there are tons of bits that are open-ended (example: they have a hostel booked for the first two nights in london, but don’t have plans beyond that). there plenty to be nervous about in terms of harm that could come their way — but there’s also plenty to be nervous about in terms of poor choices they could make. but i have to let liesl be a young adult; i have to let her use that developing frontal lobe decision-making ability, or how could i expect she’ll ever grow.

part of me hopes i don’t have to know about the “well, that was a bad choice and a good lesson” experiences.
part of me will want to rush over and rescue her when she’s in a pinch (like i was tempted to do last night, when, on her last day of auto insurance coverage, and two days before leaving the country, she got in a car accident).
part of me wants her to make perfect choices at every single moment, and experience 9 months that could be filmed and edited into a case study shown to high school seniors.
part of me wants her to get stuck, and make some bad choices, and have a few “oh, crap” moments, because i know those will (or at least could) shape and form her.

mostly, i’m just going to miss her. god, please, protect her. let her mess up; but protect her.

a few pics from our colorado trip

we had a wonderful and relaxing trip to colorado. jeannie and i drove both ways (2 days each way), and listened to audio books while we drove. it’s been a long time since just the two of us had a long drive together like that — really nice. liesl flew into denver for the weekend, and we went to my cousin’s wedding. we had a blast, since my mom’s whole side of the family were there (almost all of them, from all over the country). then, jeannie and i got a secluded little cabin 15 minutes outside of estes park for another 4 days before heading home. my parents joined us for the first 24 hours, then we just hung out, read books, went on a hike in the rocky mountain national park, and chillaxed.

jeannie, liesl and me at my cousin’s wedding

my dad and me at bald pate inn in estes park

some beauty on our hike

more beauty on our hike

the little fox who visited our cabin regularly

how i spent much of the time at our cabin

launching my daughter (the goal of parenting a teenager)

ok, youthworker.
ok, parent.

riddle me this: what’s the goal of parenting a teenager?

my own answer to this has morphed a bit over the years, particularly in the years since my own children have been teenagers.

i was never in these camps, however:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to create contributing members of society.
  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to create nice, compliant, church members.
  • the goal of parenting teenagers is that they would be adults who earn lots of money.

i wasn’t even in this camp:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is that they would be adults who are happy.

that one, however, is more seductive than the prior three, since i do want my kids to be happy (it’s just not my ultimate goal).

for a bunch of years, i held to this one:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to create radical followers of jesus.

or something like that. to a youth worker’s ear, that sounds pretty good, huh? but to be honest, i think that was more about me than it was about my kids — i wanted to be that dad whose kids changed the world, man. yeah!

as if i could “create” that! pul-eeze. who did i think i was? (hint: rhymes with “freeze us”)

but today, my “goal of parenting teenagers” could be summed up with this little video:

in other words:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to effectively launch them into adulthood!

my thinking is: our pervasive cultural “failure to launch” has very little to do with what teenagers and young adults want, or are capable of. most would prefer to be adults, if we (“we” both refers to our culture at large, and our dominant fear-based approach to parenting) would release them from the dry-docks.

liesl, my oldest, the apple of my eye, my baby, the daughter i love more than just about anything or anyone else in the entire known or unknown universe, has launched. a few weeks ago, she graduated from high school. the next day, she headed off to a camp where she’ll be full-time staff for the entire summer. she’ll be home for a few weeks at the end of the summer; then she and a friend head off to england, scotland, and india, for 9 months of volunteering, adventure, growing up, and risk-taking. yup: risk-taking. i know this next year will be a 12-month version of those boat-sideways/almost-tipping-over/first few seconds of ship-launching. i know she’ll try things i’d rather not know about. i know she’ll stub her toe (certainly metaphorically). she’ll make great choices and lousy choices and reap the rewards and consequences of them all.

am i nervous about my little girl launching? am i nervous about what might happen on the other side of the world? absolutely. 100 percent. i’m sure i’ll have some nights over the next year when it’ll be tough to get to sleep, when my fears get the best of me.

but she’s ready. she’s certainly not perfect — just like her parents on that one. but she’s aware of the connection between consequences and choices; and — for an 18-year old — she has a fairly clear understanding of who she is and what she values. i don’t always agree with her choices, to be sure. but they’re her choices.

it’s very strange, knowing that my job as a dad is basically done. sure, i’m going to help pay for college over the years to come. and i hope to be both a support and a sounding board. but these days, most of that is via ship-to-shore radio, rather than tinkering in the shipyard.

i love you, liesl, and i’m really proud of you. travel well, be yourself, and bring grace to those around you.