Tips for Teens from an almost 30 “girl”

On how to live a life well-spent and well thought-out, from the perspective of a 29-yr-old

friend poking my eye

friend poking my eye

In this order: Academics/career, then dating

ACADEMICS/CAREER

1)Calvin and Hobbes is awesome for many reasons, but it is actually a great place to find your PSAT words (Is that still what they are called, I wonder?) Anyways, I used to use lines from Calvin and Hobbes to get bonus points for finding PSAT words in English. If you can’t get points, you can at least increase your vocabulary with it and get some great laughs.

2) You are now in the age range where adults in your life expect you to start making decisions about your adult life-even though you are young and should still listen to their advice, make sure you are thinking through what you will want to prioritize in your life too. Some things to consider that I don’t think people always encourage young people to do: If you are thinking about what kind of career to get into (which you do have to consider sooner or later since what college courses you will take are largely decided by the career field you choose..), talk to people who are already in the career field to find out not only about the job and what schooling it took to get there, but also what their lifestyle looks like because of the job. Does the person you are interviewing have a family yet? Do you want to have a family? Do people in that particular career field work weekends, evenings, 40 hour weeks, or more like 60-hour weeks? Does it require travel often, and is that something you would feel okay with? this may not be a popular thing I am telling in the eyes of the parents’ of some teens because sometimes considering these things and trying for a career that would be more conducive to having time for a family might (or might not) mean less pay, or less prestige. Some parents might get a little carried away with that. Here is the point, though: Your future IS YOUR future, so pray about it, research, and talk to multiple people. If you are able to work part-time as a student in the career field you are considering, that is also a great way to find out behind the scenes information.

3) If and when you go to college, some advisors are not good at their jobs. Know ahead of time what classes are important for you to take (besides general education)

4) Speaking of general education, aka “gen eds”, it really is okay to take some of those at a different school if it is cheaper. Some people would rather go off and have a “college experience” and live somewhere different, etc right away. That was me. I don’t necessarily regret it although it would have saved some money, but I had a great time in my less busy years of college. (Clean, non-destructive fun, mind you.) A lot of people wouldn’t mind doing their genereal education classes at a “commuter college”, though.

5) This is both educational as well as dating-ish advice: If you have a test, but there’s also an enticing person you want to chat up the same evening/day…STUDY. Especially if you have a final the next day..Coming from someone who got a B…yes a B…in ART APPRECIATION..after flirting with some guy I’m most certainly not married to, never really dated and therefore is mostly a reminder that I got …a B in ART APPRECIATION (facepalm, to use slightly younger lingo) ha. Oh, and if you study and get a B in art appreciation, I’m not trying to be negative but I DID have an A (an easy A), and the lack of studying the night before the final resulted in my grade being brought down to a B.) So a good segue into the next section, which is….

DATING/FRIENDS/SPIRITUAL

I remember a leader at church suggesting that there isn’t much reason for teens to date at all, but I wouldn’t make the statement not to, personally; after all, my in-laws were highschool sweethearts and are still married after all these years. It can happen. The church leader was correct, though that statistically speaking, most people these days do not end up marrying who they start dating in highschool. I think this is mostly due to how many changes teens go through in their tastes, maybe beliefs, and directions in life (geographical and otherwise) Aside from this, though, even if you were to look into the future and know for certain your highschool girlfriend or boyfriend is the one you will marry, there are good reasons to do the following:

5) Spend most of your free time with your friends, rather than your girlfriend or boyfriend. This is not just old lady Natalie talking to you, but the teen Natalie as well. Back then, I could see the value in spending most of my time with friends and family during the teen years. They are the last that you will likely have to just hang out and do a lot of something and a lot of nothing (which can be just as much fun) with friends. Don’t panic, the twenty-something’s with children do still make time for friends so your life won’t be OVER when you have a family, but I will be honest and say that it is MUCH harder when you have a family and a job (or without one, often) to make time for friends. You will look back on your teen years and miss how easy it was to have with your friends-probably not as much your boyfriend or girlfriend, because you are either no longer together OR you married your bf or gf and see him/her everyday! When kids are sick or job schedules clash, you will appreciate how much time you spent with your friends in your teen years (and same goes for after teen years, too.)

6) If your parents are a little lax on rules for dating (Mine surely weren’t, but I know those parents are out there! Sometimes there are even you teens who get yourselves to church and parents have a completely different worldview. I know non church-goers may have strict dating rules for their children as well, but I’m talking to you kids who have to draw your own boundaries because your parents do not.) Have some boundaries of your own and get an adult and/or a friend to hold you accountable to these. (Boundaries as in how late you stay out, how long you are alone, what is and is not involved in your physical contact, etc.)

7) If you do want to date in highschool, or anytime, ever, a good rule of thumb is to see the person you are dating in different contexts: their family, their friends, your friends, school, churchgoer friends, non churchgoer friends..Someone can seem as sweet as can be one-on-one. Anyone can be fooled one-on-one, especially if you are attracted to someone.

8) If you are a Christian, don’t date someone who isn’t. The Bible says it,(2 Corinthians 6:14-“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”) and it does make sense. I’m afraid some people might think this means Christians who will not date non-Christians (or even those who don’t seem invested in their relationship with God-don’t read Scripture or pray, don’t attend church, don’t consider the Scripture when making life choices, etc.) think they are BETTER than those who are not Christians (or not very “invested Christians”, whatever you want to call it. Some of my friends would probably term it “religious”, so lets say maybe someone believes in God, but aren’t too sure or not concerned with how that plays out in their lives. They aren’t “religious.”..Christians-true to God’s Word-do NOT think they are BETTER. This is not why someone would choose to not date a non-Christian. It is about each others’ lives getting off-track because there isn’t a common goal. That is very important in marriage, whether people want to admit it or not. There will be compromise, resentment, and more compromise. And possibly guilt. Sometimes the other becomes a Christian and then both are on the same page and that is wonderful, but that is not what God calls us to do. Many in the Church refer to this “no-no” as “missionary dating.” Christians, don’t try to be a missionary in your dating life by dating someone hoping to win them to Christ because chances are, you will have a broken heart when it doesn’t work, and you will hurt the person you are dating as well. You aren’t in the business in changing who people are, God is. If they say they’re a Christian, that doesn’t mean you are right for each other, either. Use number 7 tip to help you determine how compatible you are.

So back to this “We don’t think we are better” deal as a sidebar..the Scripture teaches that there is none who is “good” (Romans 3:12), but it is only by God’s grace that Christians are forgiven their sins by accepting forgiveness and having a relationship with God through Christ, living their lives for his purpose. The decision to live for God, though, can be sidetracked if joined in such an intimate bond of marriage without your partner running the same race (1 Corinthians 9:14) as you. It only makes sense. And you may be thinking,

“Wait? Marriage? I’m just thinking about dating, I’m a teen!”…what’s the point in dating if you absolutely would not consider marrying this person, ever? That is the point of dating, otherwise it is a waste of time (sorry, but its true!).

So A) If you are a Christian wanting to follow God’s word on His design of marriage, don’t even consider dating someone who isn’t a Christian. B) Don’t date someone if you would immediately say “no” if you ask is it someone you could ever hypothetically marry someday.

I hope #8 was clear…by all means, if you have questions about what I meant or what the Bible says on the matter, by all means message me or Comment on the blog, whatever you feel comfortable with.

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The Church: Why You Shouldn’t Take it for Granted

church image

I know at this point readers are expecting something about tonsillectomy or Ethan’s recovery, and I will post about that when I have more of an overview, but instead I wanted to share something that has been on my mind and heart more and more over the past 2 years…Before that, though, I’ll rewind a little to give some background.

CHURCH ATTENDANCE, THE EARLY DAYS
I have gone to church my entire life like many good southern girls. 😉 Only for my family it wasn’t just a routine like some may think. My parents raised me to appreciate church and to gain meaning from it. We had devotionals (with actual meaningful discussion) around the supper table and in our beds at night. I went to AWANA as a kid to memorize Bible verses and play. I went to youth group, youth choir, youth camps, you name it. In college I did keep on seeking out Bible studies, ministry to help International students get rides to the special food stores in the city where they could make foods from their countries they missed. Ryan’s upbringing was much the same: His family had him in church, and with a definite purpose behind it. Their family also practiced having a personal relationship with God, and with serving others.

When I was single, I went to a singles group at a church and invited my friend who is now my husband. ( Bonus! ) And when we were married, Ryan and I still stayed true to being involved in church by serving as Sunday school teachers for elementary kids and serving as youth group leaders. Ryan also joined me in doing some child sponsorship advocacy at some Christian events like church and concerts and we had a great time serving God in that way.

LIFE HAPPENS.
Then we moved to another city, and another, and attended church trying to find our niches there. The two churches were connected (multicampus church) and we enjoyed it but due to all the changes in moves and pregnancy, jobs etc., the most we did was try out being youth leaders and when I was (very) pregnant, helped in the children’s ministry.

Then Ethan came a few weeks early. And as many well know about us, it has been a very VERY busy two years! We love that little guy but wow we should have registered for some luggage and soda bottles on our baby registry, we’ve had so many hospital visits! If you are lost read Ethan’s birth story and about his surgeries and sicknesses in posts throughout.
We have changed so much about our lives, like any parents do, but it has included a ton of transitions and complete life changes such as selling our home, moving to another city and renting an apartment eventually. We did that to be close to the children’s hospital in our state and to be close to family while we are in this very busy stage of getting diagnoses, treating, and repairing things to get little Ethan where he needs to be.

WHAT WE SEE MORE CLEARLY BY WHAT WE MISSED ABOUT CHURCH

No, we didn’t stop going to church. We didn’t even stop going to lifegroup. (bi-monthly meetings, sometimes a Bible study or topical group that encourages one another spiritually) But we missed HUGE chunks of church and consistency in a certain church, and consistency in WHEN we could go to church because we were at the hospital, working, or asleep after being up all night at a hospital. I’m not trying to get out my violin and start playing a sad tune for us, but I’m saying how we missed out and why its given us such a greater appreciation for church in general!

1) GOING TO CHURCH IS A PRIVILEGE. When I DID get to attend church, I looked around a felt like it was such a privilege to join with other Christ-followers and all get together for that purpose, to worship alongside them. And it made me think, wow, this is a little glimpse of Heaven, how amazing is this? I wouldn’t have thought about that EVERY time I went to church before, but since I’ve had to miss out NOT by choice? I think about it everytime. And something interesting happens. I don’t CARE what style the song is. I don’t even really care if I know the song. I wasn’t ever one to whine about those sorts of things anyways, but having the perspective of church being such a rare privilege definitely strips away all the petty things. It may not seem petty to some, I understand, but trust me when I say it is! Followers of Christ who are in a new place, a different country, I’m sure would not care so much about the style if they had the rare occasion to meet with a fellow believer. In the same way, if I haven’t had the opportunity to have fellowship with other Christians and worship alongside them and then suddenly I get to, I will not be picky about style. Aside from the music worship, when you hear a word from Scripture by any pastor-any Bible-believing, theologically sound pastor, it doesn’t matter if its the stomping, “can-I-get-an-Amen?” pastor or the kind that talks like Mr. Rogers when he preaches (no one in particular comes to mind, don’t worry) , if you GET to hear someone teach from God’s Word..jsut break that down and think about what that means. The God of the Universe wants a relationship with you, to save you, to give you purpose AND left an instruction book and love letter that he has appointed pastors to teach from…maybe you will appreciate it more. I don’t always think of it that way, but by golly after missing a lot of church and needing it I do!

2)THE CHURCH HOLDS YOU UP WHEN YOU ARE IN THE DEPTHS. We had new appreciation for the Church because the Church acted as the Church to us in our times of need. Now when I say the Church–I mean the Christ-following, evangelical Church that came to our aid in the forms of several different church bodies and individual Christians. When Ethan was first born, some pastors we only met once at a church we visited were out mowing our lawn! I don’t even remember their names. Friends from a lifegroup that we also didn’t know well yet brought us meals until we had food coming out our ears once we returned home from NICU. People from our parents’ home churches sent vending machine money, meals, prayers, met with us in person to pray over us. A girl I met once at church texted me encouraging words and verses each morning and my youth pastor’s wife from growing up texted me similar things in some of our darkest times. I hadn’t seen her in years. People asked to share Ethan as a prayers request with their Sunday school classes, Christian friends from highschool contacted us online telling us they were praying for us last year when Ethan almost didn’t survive from a medical perspective. Of course our close friends and family were constantly asking us “what can we do? Are you ok? Can I buy anything for you? Scrub your toilet? Feed your dog?” THAT is the Church, a big part of it. Faith without works is dead, as it says in the Scripture, and all these Christians definitely put their faith to work in helping us! Even today with Ethan’s fairly simple surgery, we had pastors and Sunday school leaders from two churches come. Two of those we have only known for a few weeks.

It was kind of strange being on the receiving end of the serving, having grown up in church and served ourselves. I had a pretty easygoing life before then. I love my life more and more everyday, though, so don’t get me wrong! I think anyone who knows me and has read even a sentence of the rest of this blog know I’m a pretty proud Momma! It was a good kind of strange, though, the being on the receiving end. It made me see how much we all need one another, in the Church. Also how much the world needs the Church. Of course I did know this before, but I see it more vividly now, the need.

BOTTOM LINE

I say all this to say..church-goers, stop yawning at church and sing hallelujah with some gusto! (okay, you can yawn. This Momma’s tired too. But take notes and we will help slap each other to stay awake and learn something with the knowledge that not everyone in the world can get together to worship God with such ease as we do here!)

And non churchgoers..give it a shot. We’d love to have you. 🙂

“Scream”

8 Months Old sleeping in PICU

8 Months Old sleeping in PICU

Just want to scream sometimes,
But that’s what unstable people do, right?
Do you ever get tired of having to be stable?
I do.

Can I just get a pillow or an empty forest?
Something to throw when I’m sick of this scene?
Have you ever had a place that you owe something to-
but you want to wail on its very walls at the same time?

Tell the people inside to just leave you alone-
let me take myself, my kid,
and just go? Yet, you can’t.
Just want to stop the effort, the worry,
and go be “normal”
for awhile,
whatever that means.

So then I scream out to God-
And His answer is the same as before, calm.
Unchanging, saying

“I am here.
I have a plan
And its okay now,
to scream.

Lean on me, quit trying
so hard and let me.
I know what it means to scream, too.”

I wrote this when reflecting on some times in my recent life, in the past few years. Who would like to guess what the inspiration was, what times they were? 🙂 Thankfully, the times I feel like “screaming” are not all that often. But they happen. And I thought some others could relate. Everyone feels like this sometime if we are honest with ourselves.

Comparison, Thief of Joy

This was written in the middle of Ethan’s stay in PICU for RSV in Winter/Spring of 2014..

Well as soon as I started saying how thankful I was that we didn’t have a repeat of last year, here we are in PICU again. However, it is not just the same because last year he declined very fast and had to be on a ventilator and chemically paralyzed.
It is so frustrating that we are so very careful with Ethan yet he gets RSV anyway. Since I am so busy tending to Ethan at the hospital, I tend to reflect on the car ride to and from the hospital when I am taking a turn at spending the night at home. Yesterday I started feeling a little wronged, that things were unjust, unfair. “ We already have a kid who has therapies all week long..he struggles through every milestone he meets…we have been so thankful and patient while we stay indoors and away from birthday parties and such trying to keep our child safe through the winter..while we see other families go and do, seeming effortless. (I know this is not true, it just feels it sometimes.)

I asked God and myself, “Why does he have to suffer again? Is he going to spend his second Easter in the hospital again?” In a dark moment of worry my husband said it aloud too, “Why does this have to happen to him? It just isn’t fair…” I’ve had friends tell me this before, that its unfair and I still felt strong and sure that yes, its unfair, but I don’t feel wronged. Things do happen for a reason.
This is all true. But did I feel it while driving home yesterday? No. Then as I heard the Christian radio station (K-LOVE, that actually isn’t playing as often as, say, classic rock or children’s music,) happened to be on at just the right moment. Someone from a Proverbs 31 ministries said that, “Feelings are indicators. They show the condition of our hearts..” She went on to say that basically we should be mindful of this as not to let it drive how we act and interact in ours lives. I really needed to hear that yesterday. Just because I feel wronged, an outsider, doesn’t mean that I am. It would be plastic and disingenuous to say that I do NOT sometimes feel that things are unfair and that I get weary, but I am realizing that the weight of the feelings are just that and it does not mean God loves me any less or that people take us or our experience for granted, because it is very clear that most do not. People are very gracious in saying that they are praying for us and that they are reminded of what they take for granted as people, as parents.

It does still sting sometimes to see how seemingly effortless other parents’ lives can be, that they can just tote them around, breastfeed them, go play with other kids, and choose what to do with their free time (or time as a stay at home mom, rather than have time blocked out for therapies that would otherwise be trips to the park or fun activities with my child.) It’s hard to look outside at a beautiful day from a hospital window.

While I know all families have some hardships (because hey, this isn’t Heaven!), it FEELS like families who don’t have kids with ongoing special needs have it easy even if I’m just seeing the fun parts of their lives.

I also know that comparison is the death of happiness and the thief of joy. After all, you always find someone who seems to have it easier. Or seems to have it harder. That is just how life is, we are not supposed to all have the same life experiences. God shows himself in us humans in our compassion toward one another, and our help for one another. For example, people who have grown children or no children can come alongside those who do have children and help them. I feel guilty because I feel I can’t do much for others who have children in the hospital (because I definitely feel their pain!) because we are in and out of the hospital so much and try to maintain Ethan’s health when he is at home. That is just one aspect of the beauty of differences in experiences. By the same token, people have told me that perspective it gives them to see our family struggle through, but keep faith, through Ethan’s illnesses and challenges that come with his Down Syndrome.

I do think we have, overall, a great way of appreciating and seizing moments because we have spent so much time NOT at home. It is that much sweeter when we are home. That should come soon again, we pray.

Peace is a Choice.

I actually wrote this awhile back, but I suppose New Year’s Eve is an appropriate time for this kind of encouraging word. 🙂

Enjoying a peaceful moment (as much as it can with a toddler!) with my son just before his 1st birthday.

Enjoying a peaceful moment (as much as it can with a toddler!) with my son just before his 1st birthday.

Something I am learning is to CHOOSE peace. Meaning to choose to be at peace rather than be swept up in busyness or “wishing your life away” by always looking for what is ahead. We have all had them..”If I can just make it til Friday..If I can just get a break..a vacation. Some time with the guys/girls. A date night. Some new makeup or clothes to make me feel a little better about how I look.”

As a first-time mom adjusting to working full-time as well (I did part-time for most of my son’s first year), I am experiencing feeling overwhelmed for the first time in this magnitude.

Of busyness.
Late nights.
Early mornings.
Frantic races to deadlines.
Worrying about all the dollar signs flying out like little cartoon bucks with wings above my head while I wonder how could we possibly have so many things to buy, to pay for?

My phone going off like crazy with doctors’ appointments, therapy appointments, and work reminders alike.
And then when I even want to do something “relaxing..” it is not very alluring because then its an entire routine to get out of the house with a toddler. You get the picture.

So what I’ve been having to tell myself lately and to pray about is this: You can either live life, or let life happen to you. Which will it be? What kind of life am I reflecting today? Is it one of peace, one that reflects The Holy Spirit in my life? Or is it one of irritation, anxiety, and without hope? As a follower of Christ, I should be one the most joyful people around. Not worrying. Not frantic.

I told some co-workers the other day that if I could call myself a certain animal, it would be a flying squirrel. Not because I thought I was cute like a flying squirrel, or talented like a flying squirrel. (That’s how I see it anyways.) Because I am frantically running around…This is when I have to remind myself of the verse in Scripture that says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …

Choosing peace is going outside. Stopping. Listening. Reading. Praying. Its leaving a list unchecked from time to time, a few dishes unscrubbed.

Its a balance. I feel out of control if everything is messy or undone all the time. But if you don’t stop at some point, life will just HAPPEN to you.

Don’t let THAT happen!