Guard Her Heart, Fathers

As each of my three sons has passed through middle school, I have noticed something. Well I’ve noticed a lot of things, but the thing I feel compelled to write about today is middle school girls. I know I’ve been on a middle school soapbox lately, but honestly, these are truly the wonder years, and a lot happens during these years that set the stage for the next five to ten.

I went shopping with my now sixteen-year-old daughter yesterday and the subject of middle school girls came up. She made the statement, “They will look back on how they are acting now in a couple of years, and wish they hadn’t acted that way.”

What way was she talking about, exactly? Well, it’s actually the subject of this blog piece. It’s a plea, really, to all parents of middle school girls.

Middle school girls are out of control. It’s not anything too terribly new, but it is true. Both middle school girls and boys have to learn what to do with their new raging hormones. Mostly boys have to learn to channel their aggression. Testosterone is a hugely distracting hormone. Until it comes under control, middle school boys will likely see a dip in grades, and less control of their emotions and mouths.

Estrogen and progesterone are a different matter altogether. Mood swings can be dizzying. A once easy, sweet girl will become catty and unpredictable. Girls have a difficult time believing they can make it through middle school without validation from a male. Left unchecked, these little girls will literally chase after boys like hyenas taking down an antelope.

They move in packs. No less than three in a pack, but there’s usually more. It’s typically only one girl who wants to go in for the kill, but she has her pack there to help her take down her victim. I suppose that’s taking the hyena analogy a bit far. I know it’s not flattering to compare young girls to hyenas, but from my vantage point, the situations are similar.

I think most parents would be shocked to see this phenomenon take place. I would venture to say that most parents wouldn’t condone their little girl texting a boy fifty times or more in one day. It happens.

They become pretty adept at stalking boys, too. I’ve watched it happen. The boy being stalked is standing there, minding his own business, maybe talking to a friend or two about Saturday’s game, or who’s going to be the first round draft pick, or how long it’s been since they’ve changed socks or washed their gym clothes.

Then here comes the pack of girls. They stop short of coming right up to the boy. They stand off a few feet in a group and act like they are doing something else; that there was some urgent business in that particular spot just then. And then they turn up the volume. Something funny just got REAL funny. And then they all steal a look at their intended victim. Does he see them there? Well, he does now.

So he says something smart like, “Hey, could you be any louder?”

And they go in for the kill. One in the pack will defend them with a smart comeback, but the leader, the one who has her eyes on the prize just stands there looking cute and hoping he will notice. He notices. He’s thirteen. He notices.

I’ve watched this very thing happen again and again. With each son, I’ve watched it happen. And each time, I say to myself, “If my daughter ever behaves like this, I will strangle her.”

It comes down to a need for validation. Young, maturing girls need for someone to tell them they matter, that they are worthy of admiration. I’m not so old that I don’t remember having those feelings myself at that age. I can remember drawing pictures of weddings, and thinking that no one would ever ask me to marry them. I probably even stalked a few boys myself.

So what’s missing in these young girl’s lives that they feel they need to be so aggressive towards young boys just to grab a little attention? That is the question. The answer is this. Here is some truth. If young girls do not get appropriate validation from their father, or a father figure, they will find it somewhere else.

Admittedly, some dads have a hard time during this developmental stage. While it may not really be appropriate for a thirteen-year-old daughter to snuggle up in their father’s lap like they did when they were three, six, or nine, there still needs to be acceptable physical contact and validation from that father. It is the dad’s role to justify their daughters at this stage of life. Being the apple of daddy’s eye is never more important than it is now

If daddy doesn’t hold his daughter’s heart, then she will give it away to someone else, (Or several someones in succession) and do you really want to trust it to a teen boy? In case you are wondering, the answer is no. As a mother of three boys, I can tell you. No. A young teen boy has no idea what to do with a girl’s heart. He shouldn’t know yet. It’s not time for him to know.

If a girl’s heart is safely tucked away in the care of her father, then she is free to grow up at a pace that will protect her heart and her emotions. If her daddy holds her heart, it will not be broken by the careless acts of a young boy. If daddy holds her heart, then she is free to chase someone else; she is free to chase after Jesus.

We need to teach our young girls that the race they are running isn’t to the next cute boy. Those boys aren’t going anywhere. We need to show our girls that if they run the race marked out for them, the one God has chosen, their goal will be Jesus. And at the appointed time, there will be a young man there who is also running his race. And since his goal was also Jesus, then oh what a happy day that will be!

Then, and only then, will it be okay for daddy to relinquish his daughter’s heart to the one who will handle it with care. To the one who will guard it at all costs, just like he did.

My daughter turns sixteen today. She has never had a boyfriend. She has not had her first kiss yet. She is too busy running her race. If you ask her, she might tell you there’s been a distraction or two along the way, but she knows the one that will get her heart from her dad one day is too busy running his race, too. At the appointed time, he’ll be waiting there for her…and won’t that be grand?

The Year of the Spider

It might be the year of the spider. It seems spiders are fairly prolific this year. I read one story about a snake that got caught in a black widow spider’s web and was killed. Wow. I don’t like spiders. I know they eat lots of bugs that I also don’t care for, but all those legs… shudder.

I’ve had lots of spiders in my yard and in my basement this year. Big, ugly spiders. There are so many large creepy webs on my house and in my yard, it’s beginning to look a little Halloweeny around here.

Experts say we’re not supposed to kill them. Phooey. I kill them, but it doesn’t matter. There’s always more. I read somewhere that we are never no more than five feet away from a spider at any time….

Made you look around, didn’t I?

Did you check under your chair?

It’s probably not fair to lump spiders in with sin, but it seems a logical leap given their nasty appearance. Do you ever feel as if you get one sin under control, only to have another one rear its ugly head? You can nip one in the bud, but there’s two more just around the corner to taunt you. We can begin to wonder why we even try.

Except we do. And we should. The Bible tells us outright that in this life there will be trouble. It says that very thing in John 16:33. Some translations call it trials and tribulation. But that just means trouble, and Jesus went on to say then that he came to overcome this world and its troubles. There’s our reason to keep on fighting the sin that ensnares us. With Jesus, we are over comers!

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”  We often think the sin that tries to trip us up is unique to us, but this verse says otherwise. We think our situation is different. Our fight against our sin is special. It’s not. There are no new sins under the sun. Oh, they may dress up in new clothes, but underneath, they are the same old sins coming at us again.

Verse 13 goes on to say that God is faithful, and that he won’t let the sin that tries to trip us up succeed. He always provides a means of escape.

Have you ever walked into a spider web? It’s an everyday occurrence at my house right now. You walk into it and immediately you know what’s happened. You feel its stickiness on you, suddenly you start flailing like a maniac, and brushing away potential spiders. You just KNOW one is on you.

Wouldn’t it be great if we treated sin the same way? We often know when we’ve walked into it. It’s sticky. But we often don’t choose to react immediately like we do when we are caught in a spider web. We tend to wait a while. We think we can handle sin’s effects on our lives. We know better.

 Hebrews 12:1-2 suggests this:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

When we feel the sticky grip of sin begin to ensnare us, we need to react immediately, much like we do with those spider webs. We need to fling the sin off of us, and run like a mad person towards Jesus.

I won’t likely rid my yard or my house of all its spiders, killing them one at a time, but I will continue trying. I won’t rid my world of the temptations that come at me to do me harm and inhibit my race, but I won’t give up the fight. There is a holy cloud of witnesses who are watching me, and they are cheering me on. They are cheering you on, too.

And when you get tired of running and fighting remember this. Remember Christ, who now sits at God’s right hand, endured such extreme opposition and he understands. He understands trials and temptations.

Keep running. Don’t lose heart. Keep running. Don’t be weary. Keep running.

Middle School Madness, The Sequel

So many times I run across parents who ask, “Help! What do I do?” And then they ask the pertinent question about their tween or teen. Usually it has to do with the three areas I wrote about in Middle School Madness, Part One. Usually the questions have to do with worries about their middle schooler’s physical, social, or educational vulnerabilities.

More often than not, answers to all of their questions lie in the fourth area of vulnerability. Spiritual vulnerability.

For kids who have grown up in a Christian home, most enter middle school still riding on the coattails of their parent’s faith. It’s time for them to stand on their own spiritual feet. It’s time to have the talk. I’m not talking about the sex talk, although it’s time for that, too. I’m talking about the faith talk.

But that’s not the end. Making sure your child’s faith is their own is a big step, and one worth celebrating, but it’s just the beginning. Now that your child has owned their faith, it needs to grow, and that takes work. It takes work on the child’s part, but it takes parental work, too.

Take advantage of every opportunity your child has to cross paths with people who will pour into them, spiritually. Whatever it is that your church offers to middle school kids, do it. Trust me. You need the backup. For instance at my church, in addition to Sunday morning worship, there’s Wednesday night youth services, small groups (bible study), retreats, mission trips, serve opportunities, and a humongous student conference. The more points of contact your kids can have with those who will feed their faith, the better.

Too many times we allow influences other than spiritual ones to take precedence in our children’s lives. (Fair warning: I’m about to step on some toes.) We knowingly sign them up for some activity that is scheduled during a regular church event.

Now, I know it’s hard. I know. There’s pressure. And not only pressure for our kids; there’s parental pressure to buy into all this activity. Our kids love baseball, or football, or dance, or whatever. And they really have talent. They could be a contender. Let me tell you some truth. They’re not a contender. For the vast majority of kids, they’re just not going to play Pro ball. They aren’t going to be a prima ballerina.

Take a breath… and admit I’m right.

I’m not saying your kid isn’t special, or that they shouldn’t enjoy what they enjoy, but in this life we have to make choices about what matters most, and we have to teach our kids to make those good choices, too. What are we telling our kids when we intentionally sign them up to participate in an activity that precludes them from being involved in a regular church activity?

We are saying that what they will get from the activity will impact them in a more positive way than what they will get from the church activity. I’m telling you honestly, if that is really true, you need to find another church.

Today.

For the rest of us, the truth is we might be buying into the lie that says we have to conform to what society tells us our kids should be doing. Communities and schools all over this country have decided to plan activities that keep our kids from being able to be involved in both church and extracurricular activities. If enough parents said no to this ridiculousness, it would go away. It would. But parents are afraid if they say no, then Johnny will sit on the bench for the next game, and wouldn’t that just be terrible?

Would it?

So Johnny sits on the bench for a game. Johnny tells his teammates about his life changing experience on Wednesday night at church, and how cooling his heels on the bench is a small price to pay for the life change he experienced there. Come next Wednesday night, maybe one or two other players decide they want to check out what’s going on at Johnny’s church, so they miss practice, too. A few more weeks like that, and there’ll be more kids on the bench than on the field.

Oh my.

Can I share a story of a young middle school girl I know? What a difference a year makes. Last fall, she was struggling, spiritually. This girl’s parents did it all. They helped their daughter make her faith her own. They pushed, pulled, and dragged her to every youth activity until the tables turned and she started pulling them to church activities. This young lady is well on her way to being a huge influence for the Kingdom of God. And guess what? At the end of July, when we hosted our student conference at the Birmingham Civic Center, this twelve-year-old girl stood on stage and told five thousand students how she was going to go back to school and bring Jesus to her classmates.

I hear she’s a pretty fair volleyball player, too. Just not during church time.

These are choices we parents have to make. We are still in control. We are, and if we aren’t, it’s time we were again. We don’t want our kids to follow the crowd, and yet many times we do as parents. It’s time we started deciding once again what is best for our kids. It’s time we start looking past this sport or dance season and look to our child’s future, their eternity. Only what matters for eternity really matters anyway. Are we teaching our kids to follow societal norms, or are we teaching them to chase after God? When your kid’s spiritual vulnerabilities begin to solidify in healthy ways, you’ll find that the rest of their vulnerabilities will also solidify in healthy ways. Test me and see if I’m right. If I’m wrong, I’ll give you your money back.

Middle School Madness

I went to a middle school football game this week for the first time in… thirty-three years. As I walked into the stadium, and looked around, I suddenly had the same heebie jeebie feelings crawling up my spine that were there thirty-three years ago. I had to remind myself, “You are a grown up with a college degree and a professional career. You have nothing to prove here.”

Of all the years of my life, if I had to discard any three, it would be the three years I spent in middle school. Why? The middle school years are some of the most vulnerable years of a person’s life- physically, socially, educationally, and… spiritually.

Middle school students aren’t cute little kids anymore. They smell weird, they act weird, and they haven’t got a clue about much of anything. Hormones start to kick in in varying rates, which make for interesting variations on the developmental theme.

One seventh grade boy still looks like his baby pictures, while another needs to shave. Twice a day. And girls? What’s going on with middle school girls these days? The word for the day with middle school girls is: Aggressive.

My youngest son is in middle school. He’s the last of my four kids to traverse this path. Praise God. I have recently noticed that he and his best friend are rarely without a female entourage. I say entourage because there are never less than five girls, which is the official number to comprise an entourage.

I noticed one girl in particular was crushing on Evan’s friend. It’s not that he’s not great. He is, but the truth is he doesn’t have a clue. It’s okay, he’s not supposed to yet. I pulled her aside and said, “Don’t give your heart away to him. He hasn’t got a clue what to do with it yet. And he won’t for a while. You’re wasting your time.” I’m pretty sure she didn’t listen to me. Hormones.

I come across bewildered middle school parents a lot. They are shell-shocked. It’s usually the “deer in headlights” look that gives them away, especially if it’s their first child to hit this milestone. They cruised through elementary school, and were lulled into a false sense of security when, WHAM! Their sweet child was passed on to middle school, and they’re not sure what happened or why.

Their once sweet tempered, cuddly child has become a brooding, distant alien from another planet. What’s a parent to do? As tempting as it is to send them back to the mother ship, there are some ways to get through these years of eruptions, expansions, and emotions without losing your mind.

The vulnerabilities I mentioned earlier will begin to gel for your child as time goes on, and you’ll want those to solidify in healthy ways.

The physical changes your child experiences will move through fairly predictable stages. There should be no subject that is off limits in this area. They’ll get their information from someone; you want it to be you. They need to know that everyone, even you, has gone through what they are going through. They need to know this is God’s plan to grow their bodies into the adults they will be one day.

During middle school, kids tend to settle socially into a group of friends they will cling to for the next several years. Parents don’t want to be asleep at the wheel on this one. As the saying goes, “Show me your friends, I’ll show you your future.” Be proactive. Help your child choose wisely to whom he or she will give their time and energy. Help them learn how to develop friendships that are life giving. This is a lesson that will serve them well for a lifetime.

Middle school kids begin to expand their horizons educationally. More elective classes offer them opportunities to try new things, discover new interests. Kids need to know they were made for a purpose and the best way to discover that can be in trying new things.

Students who breezed through elementary school on the honor roll, may suddenly find making the grade in middle school a challenge. The key is not to panic. Give your student some room to fail. Get them help if they need it, but most likely, the issue will work itself out when the physical and social vulnerabilities begin to solidify. We’re not heading to college yet, one or two bad grades won’t have them flipping burgers for the rest of their lives.

That leaves the spiritual vulnerability of middle school students. As this is certainly the most important factor for a middle school student, and since it affects all other areas of your student’s life, I’m going to focus on that in “Middle School Madness: The Sequel”. Stay tuned…

I Don’t Hate Football

So this weekend was the big kickoff, no pun intended, of the 2013 college football season. This is a big deal to most people living in Alabama. I can remember growing up, if I wanted to eat and sleep inside, I’d better be present and accounted for, and pulling for the Crimson Tide on game days. In all honesty, it was more entertaining to watch my father and my brother watching the game on television, than to watch the game myself. All that screaming, cheering and pounding the floor…

No one planned anything, I mean anything, during game times. I can remember one poor girl, she must have moved here from somewhere else, planned her wedding during the Alabama vs. Auburn football game. You would have thought she had kicked a blind puppy on live television for all the outrage that caused. Bless her heart.

My kids grew up outside of this hubaloo. They grew up in North Carolina where basketball was the craze, but since we didn’t live near Duke or Carolina, we were able to avoid most of that clamor.  So when we moved back to Birmingham, I finally saw through other eyes what all this football mania looked like from the outside. In case you’re wondering… its lunacy.

My youngest was in third grade when we moved back to Birmingham. On his first day of school, he came home and asked me this. “Who are we for?” Not really paying attention, I answered, “Huh?”

So he asked again. “Who are we for?” Then it dawned on me. It was the only thing that really mattered, after all. The kids at school wanted to know if my third grader who had just moved to Alabama a few days prior, was going to root for Alabama or Auburn. So I told him, “Just say Alabama, it’ll make your life easier.”

I’d like to believe that it wasn’t all that bad during my childhood, but it was. Fans weren’t only for their team, they were adamantly against the other team. I knew of families that were divided on the issue, and during certain games couldn’t even watch the game together. I witnessed two good friends come to blows over the result of one Alabama vs. Auburn game.

As with everything else, the only thing that has changed with regard to the fans, is the commercialization of fandom. You can pretty much buy any item you want emblazoned with your particular team’s logo on it. I can’t really blame the manufacturer of these items, if opportunity is knocking…

The most ridiculous thing of that nature I have seen are large crosses intended to hang upon the front door of the home, painted in team colors. As if Jesus has picked a side. Come on, now. Really? Has it come down to this? I’m sorry, but that’s just in poor taste. Jesus bore the sins of the world on that cross, can we not cheapen it by tagging it with a team logo?

Here in the Bible belt, we love Jesus. But if we are honest, some of us love football more. I know it’s harsh to put it so bluntly, but if we are really, really honest, we know its true. At the end of every football season, many fans go into mourning. They begin counting down the days until the next season starts. Do we really sit on the edge of our seats that way for the return of Christ?

When our favorite team takes the field, or scores a touchdown, we jump to our feet, screaming and clapping. We don’t care what the people around us think of our enthusiasm. But what about at church on Sunday? Doesn’t Jesus deserve more enthusiasm? I understand that lots of Hail Mary plays have saved a game, but never has one saved you. Jesus did that, by sacrificing himself, and taking upon himself the sins of the world. Once and for all.

This summer, at our church’s student conference called Motion, one of the speakers, John Gray, shared a statement about this very thing. He couldn’t have said it to a more appropriate audience.

“I will not cheer for a football team that does not know me, and remain silent about the God who made me.”

I really don’t hate football, although it likely sounds as if I do. I just think we have to be careful of anything we elevate above the level it deserves. We must be careful that we do not skew our priorities, and allow our attentions and affections to be directed inappropriately. God certainly doesn’t mind if we have a little harmless fun over a game, as long as we don’t allow it to distract us from our mission. Our mission is to love Him, serve Him, and share Him… with enthusiasm!