A Tale of Three Boundaries…

This past weekend, I had the privilege of leading a workshop on teaching preteens and teens about helping them to say YES to God’s plan for dating, marriage, and sex! ¬†I know, God’s crazy sense of humor in that… ¬†ūüôā

As we’re discussing setting rules for teens, we shared a lot of stories from our own teen years. ¬†Three distinct stories stood out to me:

  1. One attendee shared that his parents set strict rules, very strict boundaries without explaining them to him.  He had questions upon questions.
  2. Another attendee shared that while she was given distinct boundaries, her parents never brought God into the equation.  They were rules for rule-sake, and she still rebelled.
  3. Another attendee broke out in tears as her friend next to her shared the hurt she was recounting as she thinks about lack of boundaries she had growing up.  She had many, many regrets of the mistakes she had made simply because there were no boundaries in her life.

boundaryAll of these stories made my heart hurt and yet rejoice in God’s amazing grace. ¬†Yes, I believe without a doubt in my mind that kids and teens need boundaries at every age. ¬†However, we also need to explain to them why these boundaries exist. ¬†Boundaries without why’s only lead to confusion, questions, and even rebellion. ¬†No boundaries lead to lack of discernment and sometimes even conscience to do what’s right. ¬†We give kids and teens boundaries because we love them. ¬†We gives kids and teens boundaries because we want to protect them. ¬†We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to help them make good decisions. ¬†We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to equip and develop them to be responsible, God-loving, God-fearing, and wise adults. ¬†Boundaries are needed… but they cannot be given without the why’s… and the biggest and the most important why is because of our relationship with Jesus. ¬†We make our life-choices based on God’s leading because of our relationship with Him.

What’s also beautiful about these stories is that regardless of the questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes, God redeemed all these beautiful people. ¬†I don’t even know their names… but their faces are super clear in my mind. ¬†I just remember thinking–wow, they’re here! ¬†They’re at a Christian Conference, and they’re sitting in a workshop that talks about helping teens commit to Jesus Christ and making life choices that reflects growing relationship with Jesus! ¬†What a beautiful picture of redemption! ¬†God is so cool like that! ¬†God uses our past experiences and even hurts to help others… and these faces were so beautiful to me!

Set boundaries for kids and teens but explain why!  And regardless of what decision kids make, know that God can redeem even the worst questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes.

monkey see, monkey do…

monkey see monkey do

Yes, it’s been a very long time since I last blogged… The last few months have been crazy non-stop… Well, last week, I stopped by my friend’s house because I was in the area. ¬†I got to spend some time w/ her 2 kids. ¬†Her older one just turned 3 years old. ¬†As I was trying to talk to my friend, he kept wanting to play with me. ¬†We started building a tower on his colorful pegboard. ¬†Once we finished our tower, he took the four pegboards and started quizzing me:

pegboardB:  What color is this?

Me:  Blue!

B:  Greeeeaaaaat Joooooob!  Now what color is this?

Me: Red?

B: ¬†Veeeerrry Niiiiceeeee…. ¬†How about this one?

Me:  Yelloooooow.

B:  Yesssss!  Gooood.

This quizzing continued for about 15 minutes. ¬†I couldn’t stop laughing. ¬†First, it was ridiculously cute. ¬†Second, I was dying because I could definitely hear his mom’s tone and and intonation in the way he said “great job,” “very nice,” or “good.” ¬†He was talking to me as if I was the child. He was only repeating what he hears from his mom and other adults… We often talk about how scary it is “what kids pick up from adults.” ¬†They pick up words, actions, context, attitude, and even intonation. ¬†They truly observe everything…. and often repeat in the right context!

I was reminded how important it is for us adults to model for the little ones around us! ¬†I’m also guilty of not being the best model around kids at times. ¬†But if you’re around kids often or all the time, you really need to think twice about how kids are catching your behavior, actions, words, and attitude. ¬†As they say, monkey see, monkey do!

How can you change what your behavior, actions, words, and attitude to be a better model this week?

letting go of my dreams for 2014

letting go of dreamI’m a dreamer by nature. ¬†I used to get distracted as a child because I was often daydreaming. ¬†As an adult, I still daydream about the life I wish I had or hope to have. ¬†I’m also a planner by nature. ¬†I used to have a blueprint of how my life was suppose to be.

Couple years ago, I will never forget the conversation I had with a dear friend of mine. ¬†Her son had recently been diagnosed with string of special needs, and she explained to me the trial and agony she and her husband had gone through that time. ¬†“You know, the hardest part was letting go of our dream for him and accepting the life God has planned for him.” ¬†She went on to explain that even though they always wanted God’s will for his life, she and her husband still had high hopes and expectations of their son. ¬†They had dreams of their son becoming a successful engineer (he’s always been very good at putting things together) or an athlete or even a pastor. ¬†They had dreams of their child growing up to become an amazing husband and father one day, but she confided that he may not have the capabilities to put others before himself. ¬†I felt the pain as she shared her struggles with me. ¬†And then it dawned on me that this is a process every parent must go through for their children as well as everyone must go through at one point for themselves. ¬†For my friend, they were forced to face this truth sooner than they had expected.

Lately, a lot of people seem to be having babies around me. ¬†And every time I hold the newborn, I can just see the feeling of blank slate in the parents. ¬†This newborn can grow up to be anything he/she wants to be. ¬†This newborn has all the potential in the world. ¬†This newborn can become the president, run a successful company, have huge impact in this world, or invent something amazing! ¬†But reality is, that dream rarely plays out the way we imagine. ¬†Soon or later, we all have to let go of the dream we have for our kids and even for ourselves and exchange them for what it is in reality…

I’ve been known to make a list of new year’s resolution… because I have high hopes and dreams for the new year. ¬†As I’ve been thinking about this for a while, it dawned on me that I haven’t fully relinquished my dreams for my life for the life God has planned for me. ¬†I still dream of fairytale life. ¬†I still dream of fairytale job. ¬†i still dream of fairytale family. ¬†I still dream of fairytale romance. ¬†It’s not bad to have dreams and goals. ¬†I still have set goals to pay off all my debt (mostly incurred through medical and medication bills) so I have vowed to give up my not-so-guilty-pleasure of mani/pedi & spa treatments ’til I pay off all my bills. ¬†But I need to fully accept the life that God has planned for me which is far better than what I have planned for myself and stop daydreaming of “what ifs” and “only ifs.”

So for 2014, I’m letting go of my dreams and plans for my life… and working on accepting the life God has planned for me… and take each day to enjoy and live to the fullest with gratitude!

Elevate & Celebrate Fathers…

Disclaimer: ¬†I’m a little sensitive about this… but you’ll find out why if you read on! If I remember correctly, about three weeks prior to Mother’s Day, I started seeing blogs, facebook posts, hallmark commercials, articles, and ads about mother’s day… about how we need to appreciate mothers and stories and stories about how awesome mothers are! ¬†Don’t get me wrong… I don’t mean to underplay the role of mothers! ¬†I think mothers have very difficult jobs, and there are many women that are worthy of being recognized. ¬†Many mothers work tirelessly… and I applaud them! Father's Day in SA Now, you have to understand that I grew up without a mother since age 8. ¬†She passed away suddenly, and it literally took the whole village of extended family to raise me! ¬†I often say I was raised by many mothers… but I was raised by one father. ¬†He probably had no clue how to raise a pre-adolescent girl… but he tried his best. ¬†He made a lot of mistakes (we can both admit it now) but he did what he believed was best. ¬†He made me instant noodles for breakfast. ¬†He tried to act cool in front of my girlfriends and embarrassed me. ¬†He was mean to all my guy friends and embarrassed me. ¬†He let me drink 3-5 cans of soda per day. ¬†He made me sneak in popcorn to movie theaters. ¬†He let me have lots of junk food. ¬†So my dad was far from an ideal picture of the perfect father. ¬†However, he was always there. ¬†When I was physically separated from him during elementary school years for 4 years, he called me every saturday night (this is the 80’s… so that was a big deal). ¬†Whenever he traveled, he brought back earrings and necklaces for me. ¬†He tried his best to talk to me, guide me, and even give me girly advice (yeah, he wasn’t very good). ¬†He cooked for me. ¬†He bought me clothes (although his taste wasn’t always the best). ¬†He took me to hair salons to get my hair done. ¬†He tried his best to be the mom and the dad. ¬†He went into overtime to make sure I was well taken care of. ¬†He never complained… he just tried his best. ¬†And even to this day, he apologizes for not having done enough for me. ¬†He’s far from perfect (and I know that really well…) but he’s the closest thing to a mother I’ve always wanted. So I get sensitive that fathers don’t get the acclaim and the celebration that mothers get. ¬†I know that my dad had to step up to his role because he had a daughter without a mom… and he probably never imagined that he’d have to do all those things. ¬†However, it’s one week before Father’s Day, and I have yet to see something out there talking about fathers (except for bunch of email ads to sell father’s day ties, shirts, and golf accessories). ¬†Call me biased, but I think father’s job is just as stressful and difficult. ¬†They just have different stresses, and they deal with them differently from mothers. ¬†But that shouldn’t diminish how we celebrate fathers. ¬†Fathers are more often portrayed as being lazy, sitting back and watching tv with beer in their hands, etc. ¬†But even if it’s done in humour gest, how often do we see pictures of good and involved fathers in comparison to man’s man lounging in mancave? ¬†I know that there are more households with mothers than fathers. ¬†But get this… On Father’s Day of 2009, I was at a church in Khayelitsha¬†Township in Western Cape, South Africa. ¬†Because fatherlessness is a prevalent issue in many townships, they really wanted to celebrate fathers!!! ¬†The whole service was led by fathers! ¬†The praise team all consisted of fathers! ¬†They called all the fathers up on stage to sing, dance, and to pray for them. ¬†They really wanted to elevate, celebrate, bless, and encourage the fathers! ¬†It was one of the coolest things I had experienced. ¬†And then the little kiddos came up on stage, and sang a song that moved me to tears. ¬†The lyrics said: ¬†“we pray for you, you pray for us, we love you, we need you to survive.” We often talk about importance of the role of fathers… but I don’t think it’s elevated enough. ¬†I don’t think it’s celebrated enough! ¬†What if we raised the bar! ¬†What if we elevated and celebrated fathers as much as mothers! ¬†What if we blessed, appreciated, empowered, and encouraged fathers as much as mothers! ¬†I wonder what that would do to our perception of fathers in the society…

why I don’t resolve every conflict for kids…

conflict resolutionLast week, I blogged about why I don’t make kids say sorry. ¬†We don’t merely want to teach kids behavior, rather we want them to know how their actions affect other children and help kids grow in their spiritual formation even through conflict. ¬†Similarly, I also don’t come to rescue every child who is upset or having conflict with another child. ¬†Often times, kids are told to “tell the teacher” when conflicts arise with other children. ¬†Of course there are times when an adult needs to step in. ¬†However, what I see too often are kids who haven’t developed the skills to talk through issues with their peers.

For example, we have a big tv with wii hooked up to it on Sundays so kids can play outside of ministry time (we have a lot of kids lingering while their parents fellowship). ¬†It’s there for the kids to play and enjoy! ¬†But the problem is, only so many kids can play at once… and they’re not always good about taking turns. ¬†Inevitably, I always have a child whining and complaining about how their turn was skipped. ¬†I could make everyone get in line and take a number. ¬†I could ask each child what their version of the story is. ¬†Rather, I tell them that they need to figure out a way to make this work amongst themselves. ¬†Our game supplies are a privilege we have through generous donations. ¬†It’s not our right… thus if they can’t figure out how to play together and take turns, then the privilege will be taken away. ¬†I would say, 8 out of 10 conflicts that are brought to my attention are something the children can resolve on their own. ¬†When it’s appropriate, we also take the time to discuss this teachable moment. ¬†We talk about how our faith and obedience to God plays into our decisions of resolving conflict.

The truth is… we do ministry to kids and family because we want to guide them to learn about God and love Him more and more… but when you’re doing life with the kids and families, every day stuff just comes up! ¬†If we’re not applying biblical principles to our every day life stuff, then our ministries become irrelevant! ¬†Thus, ministry isn’t just about our Bible lessons… but it becomes about applying our Bible to every day stuff–including learning conflict resolution skills!

Why I Don’t Make Kids Say Sorry…

Whenever I talk about discipline in my children’s ministry workshops, I share that I don’t ever MAKE kids say sorry. ¬†Of course, I get few “are you crazy?” looks from parents and other children’s workers. ¬†The reason? ¬†Well, consider following scenarios:

  • a boy bites a girl; he says “sorry”; she cries; he hits her again; he says “sorry”; he hits her again; he says “sorry”; etc.
  • a girl hits mom; she says sorry; mom gets upset; the girl yells “but I said SORRY!!!”

What does the word “sorry” mean to the boy and the girl in the above scenario? ¬†What I hear is… “as long as I say sorry, I can do anything I want.” ¬†In both scenarios, the boy and girl are only 2 and 3 years old. ¬†From very young age, our kids are being conditioned to behave in certain ways (what some might consider the social norm).

It never fails. ¬†Every time I’m with a group of children, one child runs up to tell me how another child hurt his/her feelings or one of them will burst into tears. ¬†Conflict among children is normal. ¬†It’s part of growing up and learning how to manage conflict. ¬†Too often, I see adults stepping in, making the offender say “sorry,” making the other child accept the apology (even if it’s insincere), and life goes on as usual. ¬†It may seem the conflict has been managed on the outside… but what did we just teach these kids? ¬†We merely taught behavior… and didn’t get to heart matters. ¬†And we did not teach kids to manage conflict in healthy ways.

When I do have to step in… I ask each child why and how:

  • Why did you do what you did?
  • How did you feel when the other child did that?

We talk… then I proceed to ask “what would you like the other child to do now?” ¬†“What would you like to do?” ¬†“What do you think God thinks about this situation?”

To be honest, it’s not always pretty. Sometimes, all that needs to be said is “sorry,” and we can go on. ¬†Other times, we don’t come to a resolution. ¬†One child may say “I want him to say sorry.” But the other child might refuse to say “sorry.” ¬†But once again, I believe this is part of life… sometimes, apology doesn’t come so easy. ¬†Sometimes, conflict isn’t resolved in 5 minutes even if it’s just over legos.

I believe this is what spiritual formation looks like… when we hit heart matters rather than behavior. ¬†Conflict is a big part of a child’s life… and guiding them to resolve conflict in healthy, Christ-centered ways is helping them to grow spiritually. By the way, I also don’t resolve conflict for kids–that’s another blog in the works!

I couldn’t resist including this awesome apology letter from a child! ¬†I think this sums up exactly what I’m talking about!

Apology Letter from a Child!

Stronger Wings

ImageCouple weeks ago, I was invited to dinner at one of our church deacon’s home. ¬†They have two little boys, and I got to see something cool for the first time. ¬†Their older son had gotten a butterfly¬†cocoon¬† from a museum, and it was in an insect cage. ¬†The butterfly happened to emerge from the chrysalis during our dinner, and we all got excited! ¬†They had an instruction manual that said NOT to touch the butterfly, but to put in a branch in the cage. ¬†We did just that. We stared at the butterfly, and it did nothing. ¬†In fact, we all commented on how drab and ugly it looked. About another hour into our conversation, I suddenly saw the butterfly open its wings, and it was colorful and beautiful. ¬†I know I learned about metamorphosis in school (few times I’m sure) but witnessing it for the first time was pretty phenomenal… and I learned more about the life cycle of butterflies at this moment than I had from textbooks.

Two days later, I had dinner with a good friend of mine. ¬†We were talking about struggles of parenting (although I don’t have children, as a minister to children and families this is a topic I take great interest in). ¬†She told me about a story she had read online about why it’s important to allow your children to struggle through life experiences. ¬†It’s apparently a pretty famous story (that I had never heard before)… and I even found several different versions online. ¬†This was my favorite version:

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.

 The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

 One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

 The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

 At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

 The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

 As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

 But neither happened!

 The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

 It never was able to fly…

As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.

Wow! ¬†I never knew this… (or I wasn’t paying attention when I was supposed to have learned this fact!). ¬†I learned TWO amazing life lessons through butterflies this week:

  1. Yes, struggling is an important part of growth experience! ¬†In fact, it’s the struggle that gives you stronger wings to fly! ¬†Not only parents but churches/ministries often make the mistake of raising children, youth, and adult congregation members in a bubble. ¬†We don’t allow people to struggle… we often tell them how to think, feel, respond, and act as Christians… when what we need to do is allow them to struggle through their decisions with our guidance. ¬†We need to let those God has entrusted to us to come to their own convictions through struggles (even if they arrive at undesired decisions at the time). ¬†We need to allow people to make mistakes and learn from them. ¬†We need to allow people to develop stronger wings so that they can fly even when they’re no longer part of our ministries.
  2. Eye witness and experience teaches us more than textbooks. ¬†I know that metamorphosis of butterflies is¬†part of primary and secondary science curriculum… I vaguely remember the diagrams in my textbooks. ¬†However, the details of this lesson never stuck… but when I saw the butterfly emerging from the pupa with my own eyes, I was completely fascinated by the process… ¬†and I haven’t forgotten the details because I experienced the wow of the butterfly pumping fluid into its wings. ¬†Experience will always trump information transfer!

I took this photo of a moth in Minneapolis couple of years ago… I thought it was pretty amazing then… but I now have a whole new appreciation for these beautiful strong wings!