Category Archives: personal

FRIDAY NUGGET: What You Do is Not Who You Are

I spin plates. I’m really good at it. Do you know what I mean? I have so many tasks and projects and ideas that demand my attention and focus: they require that I keep reaching toward them, giving them a little spin, to keep them from crashing to the ground.

Someone once asked me if my concern was that I wouldn’t know what to do if one or more plates crashed to the ground. But that’s not my issue. The issue for me is that I’ve often not been convinced I would know who I am, in a deep inner-life sort of way, if the plates no longer required spinning. After all, plate-spinner has become an identity.

Maybe, like me, you’re a youth worker. You passionately pour yourself out into the projects and people of youth ministry. But that’s not who you are. Do you know that, at a deep level? Do you know that you are so much more than what you do?

I’ve been on a long journey to separate “who I am” from “what I do.” Or, as a wise person said to me, to turn both “who I am” and “what I do” over to the transformational, redemptive work of God. So, if you hear a loud ripping sound coming from San Diego, you can assume it’s me. Want to join me?

my 2014 travel year, by the numbers

IMG_4820

  • Trips (not including personal stuff): 31
  • Stops (some trips had more than one stop): 46
  • Airline mileage: 144,742
  • Flight segments: 141

IMG_4876

  • Train segments: 1
  • Nights in a hotel, camp, conference center or guest bed: 124
  • US States visited (not including layovers): 17 (CA, MI, GA, MA, CT, PA, NJ, SC, OH, WA, NC, AL, CO, TX, TN, VA, IN)
  • Foreign countries visited: 3 (England, Canada, Belize)
  • Car rentals (not including a couple in-town rentals): 34
  • Car rental Days: 86
  • Nights stuck in a layover city due to missed connections: 4

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my bucket list, end o’ 2014 edition

i am a person not short of longings and daydreams. and i collect experiences like others collect trinkets. so it should not be a surprise that i think ‘bucket lists’ are fun. in fact, at the first meeting of each new cohort of the Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program, i have participants give us a little glimpse into who they are by sharing 3 bucket list items: one they have done in the last few years, one they’d like to do and probably will, and one they’d like to do but probably never will.

so, i’m gonna put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were) to list some of my own. some of these were already in place; but others i’m making up on the spot.

in no particular order:

  1. continue to visit one new country, at least every other year. i’d love to visit one new country per year, but that’s not always reasonable. however, i have 2 (and maybe 3) on deck for 2015 already (Italy, Spain, and maybe Jamaica). i’m at about 41 or 43 countries visited so far, and i’d certainly like that to cross 50. 75 would be nice.
  2. visit the two remaining states i have not been to (Vermont and Idaho), merely to complete the 50.
  3. vacation with my wife in Italy for our 30th anniversary for 3 full weeks (this one is likely, for 2016).
  4. write a handful of books for the broader christian market (meaning: not youth ministry or teens or parents). i have my first–Hopecasting–releasing in march. how it does will greatly determine whether this is a one-and-done item, or a broader impact and new area of growth for me.
  5. grow The Youth Cartel to a sustainable place where i’m less necessary. i imagine about 5 or 7 staff, a fun office, ongoing creativity and impact, and the ability for me to play an active role without being so busy.
  6. bucket list

  7. be involved in raising up a couple UH-MAZE-ING next leaders for The Youth Cartel–people who are WAY more talented than me and WAY more likely to instigate a revolution in youth ministry.
  8. be an 80 year-old middle school ministry volunteer, if i make it that long (in life, that is, not in ministry).
  9. speaking of being less busy, i would love to scale back but still be meaningfully involved in youth ministry and Cartel-y things, post 60.
  10. move to a house with an ocean view.
  11. have a cabin in the mountains where i can retreat whenever the heck i feel like it.
  12. a harley. or a vespa. (yeah, i know those couldn’t be more different; but i’d love them both and realize that’s absurd.)
  13. get asked to speak in chapel at my alma mater.
  14. paint. (i loved this back in college, and would love to revive it when i reach that partial retirement mentioned above.)

and then, all the more noble things that don’t quite qualify as bucket list items, like launching two independent and passionate adults (who are currently teenage and young adult), loving my wife better, and stuff like that. but, yeah, those aren’t really bucket list items.

how about you? what’s the item on your list that you might actually do, one day?

A Happy Teenager is a Lame Parenting Goal

a publisher asked me to write a short parenting book yesterday. and my teenage son is out of town this week on a class trip (and my 20 year-old daughter is away at college): so we’re getting a taste of empty nest. those factors mashed up to bring to the surface some thoughts i’ve had percolating for a while.

A Rant:

holy cow, so many parents have absorbed, like sponges, the misguided idea that the goal of parenting a teenager is for the teen to be happy.

happywith that goal in mind, they become obligated to parent with a set of behaviors and practices that misfire and don’t get them to their (misguided) goal:

  • “sure, i’m your parent; but i really want to be your friend!”
  • “i want to protect you and keep you safe, free from any scratches or dangers.”
  • “unless it’s in an area where your exploration will give you happiness, then i want you to have that.”
  • “oh, you made a really bad choice? i don’t like that you made that choice, but i’ll remove the consequences, because they would make you unhappy.”
  • “you’re too young for responsibility. you can think about that stuff when you’re an adult. i’m sure you’ll magically become responsible at that point.”

A Concession:

but i have compassion for parents of teenagers. and, as a parent of a teenager and a 20 year-old (who i refuse to consider a teenager), i hope you’ll have compassion on me.

i am regularly bombarded (as are all parents of teenagers) with the message that my teen’s happiness should be my goal. i’m told that my teenager’s happiness is my measure of success. i’m told that i’m a BAD PARENT if:

  • i don’t remove consequences to bad choices.
  • i don’t give my teenager everything s/he wants.
  • i give him or her meaningful responsibility and expectation.

really, it has become downright COUNTERCULTURAL to parent teenagers with any goal other than an obsession with their happiness.

i’m convinced that a big part of this is because the american dream has changed.

Why the Shift?

for centuries, the american dream has promised that if you work hard, you can possess the good life. this dream has morphed, to be sure, in its definition. the shift is located in our collective desire of what we want to possess. even as recently as thirty or forty years ago, the good life was primarily about property ownership, with a side helping of possessing relationships. that might be a little snarky, but the image of a poor immigrant, dreaming of one day owning a piece of land, or a home, and raising a family while applying oneself to “a good day’s work” was as clear as a norman rockwell painting.

my paternal grandparents lived this dream. maria and rudy separately left germany in their middle teenage years, steaming toward the american dream on a ship. both headed for detroit, where each had cousins or siblings who had recently put down roots. eventually meeting and marrying, they lived the life one can imagine them dreaming of as they had one foot on the gangplank and one foot on the ship leaving europe.

rudy spent his life as an electrician for detroit edison (now called DTE energy). they had a simple but comfortable home, raising a family of three children (my father included) in ann arbor, michigan. at retirement age, they did what retirees were supposed to do in those days, moving to clearwater, florida, and a massive retirement community where she could fill her days with ceramics classes, and he could fill his with golf.

by 20th century standards, they lived the american dream.

but the 21st century has a different set of values. today’s american dream is about possessing happiness, not property. material things are still a major part of the picture (maybe more than ever), since the assumption for many is that “stuff” will provide happiness.

but increasingly, today’s young adults, and thirty- and forty-somethings, are less interested in property possession and raising a family, and are more interested in a variety of other perceived happiness producers: fun, travel, adventure, meaning or significance, community, and freedom (not freedom to own things, but freedom from being anchored to anything).

The Result:

how’s this parenting approaching working out for us, by the way?

teen languagelet’s see… i’d suggest these results:

  • adolesence is extending faster than pinocchio’s nose. young adults don’t know how to take responsbility for themselves because they’ve never been given responsibility.
  • teenagers and young adults are increasingly being treated like children. this certainly does damage, and is darn close to abusive.
  • teenagers are no happier than they were a decade or two ago (prior to this absurd pendulum swing).
  • parents are not experiencing more satisfaction in their roles. in fact, more parents feel like failures than ever.
  • basically: everyone loses. no one is getting what they actually want.

time to take stock and consider a redirect, i’d say.

The Better Goal:

i believe the goal of parenting a teenager is independence. in other words, i’m more interested in raising adults than “raising kids.” sure, we’re not ultimately made for independence; god made us in his own image, wired for interdependence. but the dependence children have on their parents needs to shift during and after the teen years, with young adults both moving into interdependence with other people and their parents. so: i’m sticking with “independence” as a parenting teenagers goal: my kids have to experience healthy independence from me (and my wife) before they can choose another alternative.

to that end, i continue to wrestle my own internal insecurities, pressure from our culture, and fear of failure, to practice these commitments:

  • i will not treat my daughter or son like children. i will view them and think of them and treat them as apprentice adults rather than living the last few years of childhood.
  • i will be err on the side of giving freedom for decision making (which is not the same thing as disengaging, or abdicating). i will create clearly articulated boundaries within which glorious amounts of freedom and decision making can be exercised.
  • i will not remove the consequences of bad choices, even if the consequences will be challenging and a threat to happiness (and even if the consequences are a major inconvenience to me).
  • i totally dig my daughter and son, and love spending time with them; but i will neither fool myself into thinking i’m their peer, nor expect them to include me as a peer.

i’d love for my daughter and son to be happy (in case you thought i was suggesting the opposite). and i think they generally are happy. it’s just not the goal of my parenting. and it shouldn’t be yours, if you want to see your teenagers grow into healthy adults.

ok. who’s with me?


Mark Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, a veteran youth worker, and a parent of a 20 year-old daughter and 16 year-old son. He speaks frequently to parents, and is the author or co-author of six books for parents, including A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains, A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media, A Parents Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating, and Understanding Your Young Teen. With his own “apprentice adults,” he co-authored a book for teenagers: 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents.

The Best Life

i’ve had a book about Hope percolating in me for almost five years. i’ve had a publishing contract for the book since last summer. i finished a draft of it about 6 weeks ago and sent it off to 6 readers (including two “theological readers”). last week i spent 3 days in the desert making corrections and tweaks based on feedback from the readers. and on saturday, i sent it off to the publisher. even if the book only sells three copies (me, my wife and my mom), this was a major deal for me, writing a book that expresses something deep from my soul, and not just my head.

here’s a tiny snippet from the last chapter…

The Best Life

The age-old existential question that has haunted philosophers and college sophomores for a very long time, is some version of “Why am I here?” Jesus gives us some fodder for consideration in what has become my favorite Bible verse:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

Remember: When Jesus says “they” in this verse, he’s talking about you.

Contrary to what one might assume by observing Christians in America, Jesus did not say:

  • I have come that you may get into heaven.
  • I have come that you may leave this lousy place one day in the future.
  • I have come that you may get serious about religion, finally.
  • I have come that you may experience your ship coming in.
  • I have come that you may know who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
  • I have come that you may stop disgusting me so much.

It’s a pretty revolutionary promise, really. Jesus wants you to experience a full life. That’s his verbatim explanation for his time on earth.

Why are you here? To have a full life.

So, what’s a full life, then?

I’m convinced, from scripture, observation of hopeful people, and my own experience, that a fullness of life burns most hot when I follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give my life away, bringing Hope to the hopeless.

As my more self-focused longings are filled with the pigment of Hope, they start to shift. Since Hope and longing are dancing the Tango, a shift in one shifts the other. My Hope increases, and my longings turn outward. My longings shift and my Hope needs a power boost.

This is the full life. This is the life we were invented for. This is God’s dream for you, a continual broadening of your longings and increase of Hope, put into action.

reflection questions for taking stock of your life

back in 2005, just before YS got sold to zondervan, i got sent on a sabbatical. i say “got sent on,” because i hadn’t actually asked for it. but it become apparent to my co-leaders and my boss that i was running on empty. i wasn’t empty yet — i wasn’t burned out. but i was in danger. so they graciously cut me off. three days later (literally), i was in hawaii starting 11 days by myself (i spent a month away from work — 100% disconnected — but the first 11 days were by myself, in hawaii). while this was critical for me, i also think we had a bit of a “this sort of thing will never again be possible after YS gets sold to zondervan/harpercollins/newscorp” understanding that fueled a few decisions like this!

the consultant who worked with our leadership team, mark dowds, gave me an assignment. every day i was to take one of the reflection questions below and think about it while taking an hour-long walk. he was insistent about me walking while meditating on the question. after the hour, i would come back and do some journaling about what i’d thought about, or heard from god. then i’d spend another chunk of time praying.

the whole thing had a profound impact on me. and in the years since, i’ve returned to these questions, and given them out to dozens of others (especially those who are headed out on a saabbatical).

it’s been a while, though. i’m completely loving what i get to do these days. but i have noticed that it’s 5% less fun than it was 6 months ago. i think that’s probably only because adam and i are doing too much, running too hard. we’re making some adjustments right now that i hope will help; but we haven’t seen the fruit of those adjustments yet.

IMG_3520so, when i head to the desert next week for a 3-day writing retreat, i think i’m going to spend some time with these questions again. maybe i’ll even walk a bit.

Where is my life going?

What do I want life to be like in 10 years (remove all fantasy and projection of anything material from your thoughts and get to the substance of life experience)?

What might God be trying to teach me?

Am I growing spiritually? Meditate on the fruit of the spirit (do I love more? am I more kind? etc.).

What moments in life have been the most pleasurable and God honoring? Revisist these times and reexperience them in your body.

What am I most afraid of and what can I discover about myself?

What changes am I going to make in life to be healthier in a holistic manner?

What can I do to relinquish more control in life in order to become more dependant on God for outcome?

What opportunities might this season be presenting me that I am not seeing?

If I was to make the gutsiest choice that could benefit my life and family more what would that choice be?

i STRONGLY encourage you to find a way to prayerfully consider these questions.

my next two months are insane and awesome

dv370009a.jpgtoday starts the insanity. i’m flying to south carolina today. and it’s the first of many, many weekends out over the next two months.

September

27/28: Building U event for youth leaders and student leaders, in Greenville, SC
29/30: UMC district worship night in Greenville, SC

October

4 – 6: JH Journey (junior high event) in Anderson, IN
10 – 13: The Youth Cartel’s Middle School Ministry Campference (actual event is 11 – 13), in Seymour, IN
13/14: The Youth Cartel’s Best Ever Parent Training Ever for Central Christian Church in Carmel, IN
16 – 21: The Youth Cartel’s Open Paris, Paris, France (actual event is 18/19, followed by a parent seminar for The American Church in Paris
25 – 27: Especialidades Juveniles Convencion (spanish YS convention) in Orlando
27/28: The Youth Cartel’s Best Ever Parent Training Ever for a group of churches in Lakeland, FL

November

6 – 11: The Youth Cartel’s The Summit, in Atlanta (actual event is 8/9), followed by a Best Ever Parent Training Ever for the North Georgia Conf of the UMC
13 – 16: Detroit, for the Detroit Youth Ministry Network on the 14th, and a youth ministry training event for Life Church in Canton, MI on 15/16
18 – 20: Youth Ministry Coaching Program in Nashville
22 – 24: National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville

whew! if you’d like to support me through this season, i sure could use prayer! pray for good health, adjustments to time changes, a clear head, a responsiveness to the spirit, and for my family back home!

transformation

i preached at my church a few weeks ago on the topic of transformation. here’s my outline:

Jesus is actively working to bring about restoration to everything broken and tainted – all of creation.

…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Why don’t we experience constant growth? We block the process.

Tweaking is not Transformation

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

What holds us back?

  1. Seductions
  2. Lack of understanding and practice when it comes to Spiritual Discernment
  3. Internal Voices of Resistance
  • Voice of Judgment (“Transformation isn’t necessary”)
  • Resource needed: an Open Mind
    And [Jesus] said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

  • Voice of Cynicism (“Transformation isn’t possible”)
  • Resource needed: an Open Heart
    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

  • Voice of Fear (“Transformation would mean I’d lose something”)
  • Resource needed: an Open Will
    So do not fear, for I am with you (Isaiah 41:9-10a)

So, what should we do to experience transformation?

  1. It’s all about posture. Position yourself invitationally for transformation.
  2. Learn to Discern.
  3. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

  4. Exercise Curiosity toward yourself. What are your Voices of Resistance? What’s their “positive intent”?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

marko at 75and here’s audio. but, for some reason, it starts about 5 minutes or so into the sermon. i began by showing this doctored photo of myself at 75, and talked about how, since i’ve recently turned 50, i’ve been thinking a bit more about my next 25 years (assuming i have them). i talked about how one of the worst things i could imagine would be to be the same person at 75 as i am today. then i started talking about how my parents have been such a great example to me in this area, and in the midst of that description, the audio picks up:


(or, you can click through here if you’d rather download it)

getting caught up!

man, i have been a lousy blogger lately! i’ve had such limited bandwidth lately, and just haven’t found time to blog. hoping to get back in the saddle this week.

so, what have i been up to?

my last couple sporadic posts were the week of my 50th birthday. but that was a crazy week in itself.

IMG_4250i’m completely stoked that The Youth Cartel is working with World Vision (and, particularly, the 30 Hour Famine team) on a variety of initiatives. one of the ways we’re working with them is to lead the development of a couple additional engagement programs for youth groups. the first of those (which i can’t reveal much about yet) kicked off may 21 – 23 with a three-day program development retreat. i handpicked a half dozen brilliant people i knew i could rely on to bring passionate collaborative input and deliver on various aspects of the program development. i rented a house on top of a mountain (roughly in the san diego area), and we spent those days dreaming, praying, wrestling and planning. we came out of those days with an amazing plan that i’m completely pumped about (both in terms of how it will impact american teenagers, and how it will impact vulnerable children on the other side of the world). now we just have to write and create the whole thing by september 1! yikes!

IMG_4272the day after i came home from that retreat, a few friends and my family planned a really fun 50th birthday party for me. we had about 30 people for a great evening of laughter, food, cigars, and a pretty hilarious marko-roast. tic long was the emcee, and was clearly in his element. good friends from past and present (including a few who came in from out of town) blessed me with their presence and words.

then, after a weekend of recovery, i headed off for a couple weeks in new zealand! what a fantastic trip. the first weekend, i spoke at two youth ministry conferences: one for youth workers on the south island and one for youth workers on the north island. it was a fairly blistering pace, since i spoke multiple times at each event, and flew down to christchurch and back up to auckland in the midst of it.

IMG_4302then, after a day off, i headed out on a ferry to an island off the coast from auckland, where i lead a four day coaching retreat for youth ministry leadership from 4 different denominations. they had never gathered like this before, so it was an incredible honor to get to lead, encourage and challenge them. we stayed at a gorgeous house overlooking the ocean, graciously given to us by a husband and wife who believed in what we were doing and wanted to invest in these leaders.

IMG_4322after that retreat ended, i headed off with my good friend (really, she’s like a sister) tash mcgill. we headed north to her family’s bach (the kiwi term for a cabin, though this one was more like a beach house). we had a few days of chillaxing, conversation, good food, and a bit of sightseeing along the coast. i got smacked with a bad head cold; but it was otherwise a really wonderful weekend.

now i’m home (actually, i’m in the LA airport as i’m writing). can’t wait to see my family, though my oldest child is now gone for the entire summer working at a camp. this week i have two online coaching groups, and a TON of work to get caught up on.

man, i am a blessed dude.