For years, parents have worked hard to prevent kids from taking up smoking. And though it seems that kids mostly get the message about the dangers of tobacco, they may be hearing false information about vaping or e-cigarettes. These electronic cigarettes are battery-operated and can look like a real cigarette or pen. There are hundreds of brands and they’re sometimes marketed as a way to get your nicotine fix without the danger of cigarettes. However, they are dangerous. Kids should not use any nicotine product. Recent science raises concerns about the adverse effects of nicotine on adolescent development, not to mention that there are a wide variety of other substances being consumed in the e-cigarette vapor.
Recently, I became aware of a new vaping device that is flooding the schools. It is known as a Juul. It looks like a small thumb drive. It is easy to conceal because it may be no larger than a couple of inches long and a half inch wide. Juuls are so inconspicuous and innocent looking that they go undetected in homes and schools on a regular basis. They work just like all of the other vaping devices. They are filled with a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings (including watermelon and bubble gum) and other chemicals, and a heating device turns the liquid into vapor that you inhale. Young people are attracted to the flavors as well as the discreet device. Your child could be using one of these and it would be hard for you know it.
Ask your teens what they know about vaping and what they think about it. And talk to them about the dangers—but don’t focus only on the repercussions and consequences of it. Broaden the conversation to be about the bigger issues involved here like facing temptations and following Christ. See this as another opportunity to walk along-side and disciple them in a world full of enticements that threaten to consume them. Whether it is pornography, alcohol, drugs, or any other temptation, let them know you understand the pressures they face, because you face them, too. Once they know you understand, you will win a voice in their life.
Here are a few aspirations when discipling kids on an issue like this:
So though vaping is a new topic to address with young people, the underlying spiritual issues are familiar. Because this is true, we can offer honest sympathy for their struggles—we face temptation too. We can also show compassion and offer wisdom from lives lived, as we come alongside our kids and walk with them through this and similar trials. Our kids need Scripture to be made relevant in their lives and parents are the greatest resource God can use to do that.
Like all of us, teens are made to live in relationship. They are social, interested in peers, and looking for connection in the relationships they build. They are also growing in independence. For many, social media is newly available to them and it is tailor-made made for those who are just entering the social scene. It offers an easy way to connect with people and places a world of information at their fingertips. It can even offer community to those who are shy or more isolated and need a connection to the outside world.
However, this new way of relating can be dangerous to a teen who is unaware of its potential risks. Indiscriminate use of social media can have many negative impacts. It is addictive. It can create a felt need to always be “connected” for fear of missing out on something. Some teens will start to lose sleep and lose interest in other activities. Others will constantly create and recreate themselves online while feeling a false sense of security because of the perceived safety of an electronic screen. This might lead to a lack of discretion about what is okay to post and make them vulnerable to on-line bullying, sexting, and pornography. It can even increase the risk of victimization from online predators.
These problems are serious and, as parents, we need to be in ongoing conversations with our kids about them. Just like teaching a child to handle a stove, a bike, or a car, we must also prepare them to use social media well. We would never let a young child simply turn on a stovetop and begin playing with it, nor would we hand a 14-year-old the keys to a truck and expect them to have the knowledge, skill and good judgment to handle it. Likewise, we should not hand kids a smart phone or other connected device without first proactively shaping how they think about and interact with this new technology.
To start, talk with them about the biblical principle of stewardship. Remind them that we are called to be stewards of what God has created (Psalm 24:1). It is all his and we and are to use it faithfully to serve him. Explain that stewardship extends to all that man creates as well, including electronic devices. Help your kids form the way they view technology. Teach them about its benefits and potential dangers—it’s never too early. Much heartache is avoided when parents are involved in shaping their child’s view on this subject—rather than trying to debunk a wrong one.
Then, to keep the conversation going, develop a working knowledge and understanding of social media. Parents (and youth workers, and counselors) do not have the luxury of dismissing their ignorance as unimportant. What may not be of interest or value to you must become so for the sake of the well-being of our young people. In fact, being well-educated on social media will win you the respect of your children and help you avoid over-reacting or imposing unjustified restrictions when questions arise about specific apps.
Use that knowledge to monitor and limit their activities online. Teens have a false sense of security when hiding behind an electronic screen in the comfort of their own home. They presume they are safe and alone. It is a parent’s responsibility to be sure they actually are safe. Until a young person has the maturity, tools, and skill to protect themselves, it is a parent’s job to do so for them. This will not be met with excitement on your teen’s behalf. It means being on top of their activities. It means being called over-protective, and potentially being told you are “the only parent in school who does ______.”
Teach safety skills online. Personal information should never be requested or given out. Be aware of all sites and passwords your child has, and be willing to check on them regularly. Even if you trust your child’s online activity, be aware that there are others online with your son or daughter who are not trustworthy. Role play uncomfortable situations until your kids can articulate what is wrong with what is being asked of them and how they would handle it. Give “what if” questions to prepare them for the unexpected. “What if someone asked for personal information?” “What if you got a text from someone you didn’t know, what would you do?” “What if your girlfriend/ boyfriend sent you an inappropriate picture?” Make it an on-going conversation, one that does not instill fear but preparedness.
And finally, teach them personal responsibility and godly fidelity in whatever they do. In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul writes: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” We want to encourage young people to engage in daily life with godliness and the conviction that they are living for the approval of the Lord, not the applause of their friends.
Our children are growing up in a world that thrives on technology, and we must be faithful in helping them engage with it. As with many things, technology can be a useful tool and a source of enjoyment, connection, and education. It can also become an addiction, idol, or tool for malice. The more we build strong character in our children, and the more we actively teach them to steward technology, the more likely they are to handle it with skill and wisdom.
We recently sat down with CCEF Faculty Member, Julie Lowe, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. Would you share one of your conference topics and why you chose it?
Nurturing Family is one of my topics. I chose it because I think we need to consider how we can proactively pursue relationships in our family life. My goal is to talk about what inhibits that pursuit. All of us should be asking “What’s getting in the way of me communicating with my spouse or my kids or my extended family? Why is this not a priority anymore?”
The most obvious inhibitor to family relationships is the lifestyle we live and the culture we are buying into. Whether it’s materialism or success, or …fill in the blank, these things suffocate real loving interaction with people. Perhaps unwittingly, we have dismissed the need for authenticity and relationship, but for what? For things that do not satisfy—like getting ahead, having a big house, nice cars, and getting our kids into the best schools. We spend so much time and effort running after these things, that we end up living in superficial ways with each other. And after a while, it becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Q. You have a large family. Does this topic impact you?
Absolutely! We are a two-parent working family with six kids, and the demands feel endless. It’s easier to deal with the tyranny of the urgent rather than the meaningful and the eternal. To move beyond the day’s activity and the crazy schedule toward that which is long-lasting—fostering relationships with my kids—is hard. It doesn’t always come naturally. It’s easier to focus on the immediate demands that I’m facing rather than on relating to my kids.
So I’m convicted every time I speak about this topic. But when I feel this, it helps me to remember what is most important, and I hope, in some way, to pass that on to other parents.
Q. No one plans to have a disconnected family. Yet we end up there anyway. Where are we tripping up?
It’s so common now to have both parents working outside the home. Combine that with multiple activities and the belief that busier kids are better off, and you have the beginnings of the problem.
I think there is also social pressure for parents to be overly involved, whether it is at your kid’s school or at your church or in your career. We give the impression that we can “do it all.” When you value these things, it reduces the family’s time together. And how much harder would all this be in a single parent home?
Relationships are hard work. I think we want the payoff of a close family without all the little moments of effort to get there. And now, through social media, we have more and more opportunity to have pseudo-relationships in ways that require no work. It’s tempting to replace meaningful family interactions with less costly ones. Checking my Facebook page is certainly easier than engaging with my kids.
Q. How can the church be a support to nurturing relationships?
First of all, the church should be encouraging families to invest in one another before investing in the work of ministry. The irony is that when we are nurturing family relationships, we are inherently doing ministry—we are building the church one relationship at a time.
And I believe it’s also important to stop segregating groups according to their status in the church. There is a great need for singles, families, and the elderly to be involved in each other’s lives. There is so much richness each has to offer the other, but it takes time and work to cross these lines. We need the church to cast a vision that values these relationships.
Q. Is there a place in Scripture you’ve found that is helpful to the goal of working on family relationships?
In his epistles, Paul uses imagery of the body to represent the church, but it also applies to the family. For the different parts of the body to work together, they need to be in unity rather than disconnected— even though they are very different from each other. Additionally, much like every family, every church addressed in Paul’s epistles had different issues that needed to be worked through. They weren’t all called to be formulaic and uniform. They had different struggles. These examples give liberty for individuality, but always at the root is the call for us to live for others, to live beyond ourselves. In an individualistic culture, these words are all the more important to hear, as we can be a people consumed with ourselves rather than living sacrificially for others.
Q. What would you want people to take away from this time?
I hope that we all walk away with a greater conviction to evaluate our lifestyles and priorities, assess what they reveal, and then do the hard work of changing them where change is needed. My hope is each of us will be challenged and committed to the work of relationships no matter how hard it is. With God’s help, we can make changes that really matter.
We recently spoke with CCEF Faculty Member, Alasdair Groves, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. Would you share one of your conference topics and why you chose it?
I chose Family Devotions as one of my topics. I chose it for a few reasons. First off, this is an area of personal interest for me. I have three young kids, so I’m thinking through how I want devotions to look for my own family. Secondly, I’d say it’s an area of some weakness for me. I don’t feel like I’m doing it especially well. But even as I say that, I have this sense that my feelings of inadequacy make me just like everybody else. I can’t remember hearing any mom or dad say, “You know, we just have great family devotions.”
As parents, it seems we all struggle in this area. We feel like there’s never enough time and kids’ attention spans are so short. We wonder when we should do it and how to hold kids’ interest. So in answer to your question, I like to pick conference topics that will stretch both me and others, and help us answer questions that have real impact on our lives.
Q. What are some of the challenges people face in family devotions?
I think the most common challenges fall in one of two broad categories. The first is logistical and the second is emotional—a sense of guilt or burden.
The logistical concerns are kind of obvious. Who has lots of time for their personal devotions? Who has additional time for family devotions? Doing family devotions involves having different people all together at once, and so that probably means that you have various scheduling conflicts to deal with. It’s so hard to sustain a pattern when that’s going to get broken by one child’s sports practice or somebody’s work schedule. And so I think there’s just this constant sense of “How do we get it in? When do we do it? How do we make this work on a regular basis?” That sense of busyness is one logistical concern.
I think another logistical struggle is due to technology. Everyone’s wired in 24/7, so we’ve all become more “interruptable,” even at mealtimes. Someone’s phone or other device is always pinging for attention. That just makes it harder than ever to have undistracted time for devotions.
Then, there are the emotional issues. There’s this huge sense of pressure people feel when it comes to doing family devotions. We beat ourselves up by saying, “I should be doing this. This is what good Christian families do.” We want this good thing for our family and for our kids. We also tend to have over-idealized versions of what it should be. The comments I hear sound like this: “I’m not doing enough… It’s not good enough… I feel like it ought to be more.”
So those are the major challenges to family devotions, not to mention the struggle that’s most basic: it’s just hard to sustain any habit that requires initiative.
Q. Can you share a Scripture that has encouraged you in the practice of family worship?
There are two places in Scripture that I’m thinking of off the top of my head. The first place for me that immediately leaps out is the book of Judges. It’s near and dear to my own heart because of my father’s interest in that book. Judges is about what leadership for God’s people should look like. And it illustrates the problems that come when that leadership isn’t there. From my dad’s perspective, one of the most ominous moments in the entire book—maybe in the whole Bible—is where it says in chapter 2, “And a generation arose who did not know the Lord and had not seen the things he had done.” As you read on in the book, you see one bad thing after another. And there are these cascading events all the way to the final verse of the last chapter, which says, “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s such a sobering statement. Yet—the flip side reaction we can have is to recognize just how powerful it is to instill knowledge of God in the next generation is a high priority.
The second place in Scripture, (and this is on the positive side) is Deuteronomy 6 where there’s this call, in one sense probably the call, to practice family devotions. It says: Talk with your family. Talk with your children about the Lord. Do it when you get up and when you lie down and when you go in and when you go out.
One thing I really appreciate about these verses is the flexibility. God is not saying “Here’s exactly what you need to do. Here are the twelve laws of family devotions.” Instead, the fundamental core of the call is simply to disciple your kids as you live life. Raise them up, taking the opportunities that are presented to you to spiritually nourish your children. I really appreciate the “formatlessness” of it. I’m not arguing against structure, it’s just comforting to know that there’s not this perfect way to do it that’s right for all people at all times.
Q. Can you speak to the dynamic of engaging Scripture with children in particular?
I’ve always tried to live by the rule I learned from Julie Lowe (one of our CCEF faculty and a friend) who said that any theology that you can’t explain to a six-year-old is something you don’t understand well enough yourself. That has been a helpful barometer for me—even before I had kids.
So I try to make sure that what I talk about with my kids is really clear to me first. After that, well, this may sound too casual, but I’ve really tried to live by the idea that discipling my kids is sort of like throwing spaghetti at the wall—only some of it is going stick. You need to keep in mind that kids are often absorbing more than it looks like in the moment, even when they seem distracted or they ask some completely unrelated question. Not looking for this immediate “light bulb moment” changes everything. Instead you’re looking for a longer trajectory of spiritual growth. Sometimes you find out that they heard more than you realized, and that it was impacting them in ways you couldn’t see at first. Those are great moments!
Q. What do you hope people come away with from your time together?
Given that guilt and a sense of burden is so present here, I would love for people to walk out feeling relieved and free.
I hope that comes in two ways. First, I want to offer something personalized. I want to offer people not just a “Here’s the best way to do devotions,” but rather “Let me help you think about what the best way is for your family to do devotions.” I want to offer some tools to evaluate “Who are we as a family? Where are we in terms of devotions? What would work well for us?” I hope to give people a real sense of freedom and flexibility based on a Deuteronomy 6 mentality.
Second, I would also love people to come away with a slightly greater sense of “Oh okay, I can do this. This is attainable.” I would love for them to say, “Okay, you know what? We could try this. It’s something that actually sounds both pleasant and possible.”2017 National Conference
How do you talk to your kids about sex and sexuality? It can be an uncomfortable subject.
Here is a phrase I often use when I teach young people about sex: God creates; the world corrupts. God creates food; the world corrupts the use of food. God creates relationships; the world corrupts and uses relationships in ways that were never intended. God creates sex and sexuality; the world corrupts it and turns it into something it was never meant to be.
Unfortunately, too often we address the corruption of such things before building a positive perspective of what God created them to be. By the time we engage youth on a topic like sex, it is often packed full of warnings—”why you shouldn’t”—and do’s and don’ts. Sadly then, what comes across is that God is against sex because it is immoral or unhealthy, and a young person might draw the conclusion that it is sinful and wrong to desire it.
But God is not against sex, he is for it. After all, he is the author of it, and all that God creates is good and worthy of desiring. In a pleasure-saturated society, we have a distinct message that is more than “that’s bad; don’t do it.” We need to be willing to convey this message to our young people sooner and do so in a way that is clear, positive, and bold.
And we need to also speak more clearly about how the world corrupts sex and then wonders why it doesn’t deliver as expected. Sometimes I use an example like this to make my point.
There is a context in which anything that it is created is meant to function well. Take for example, the iphone. It is an amazing piece of technology that can do more things than I can name. Now imagine dropping the iphone off a highway bridge only to be surprised to find when you retrieve it from the pavement below that it no longer works. Then imagine blaming Apple for your phone’s corrupted state and filing a complaint that you have been given a defective phone! Do you see how foolish it would be to blame the creator when, clearly, you were provided the boundaries in which the phone was to work and it was you who chose to misuse it?
The creator of something knows how it is intended to work best. And anytime you go outside of the creator’s parameters, it is inclined to malfunction. God is not a kill joy. He made sexuality and set the context in which it is meant to thrive. We must inspire kids to have confidence that the context in which God calls us to enjoy sex is for our good.
When I convey this message, I hope to surprise young people with these positive truths about sex. Many will never have heard them before. Subsequently, we will also talk about what happens when you corrupt sex and use it in ways that God never intended. Though the world tells us that it is pleasurable and should come without archaic rules, this use of sex will not deliver what it promises. Instead, it will deliver painful consequences, brokenness, shattered dreams, and relational injury. It becomes warped and unrecognizable, a degraded picture of what it was created to be. It may deliver temporary pleasure, but it cannot provide lasting satisfaction and relational harmony.
We live in a culture that promotes a self-absorbed, sensuality-centered lifestyle. If our children are going to learn about sexuality prematurely (and they will), be the one to proactively shape a godly vision of sex. Find winsome ways to talk about it. Make it a vision that inspires confidence in the Creator, and refuses to corrupt that which he created.
We have a common crisis in our home; it is the calamity of boredom. Our children might even consider it a catastrophe. “I’m bored” is repeated so often it would not be an overstatement to say that these words echo continuously throughout our home especially during any break from school. These are children with limited media time but still children with a Wii and Xbox system, a pool outside our door, multiple games, toys, and other planned activities. Yet “I’m bored” rolls off our children’s tongues with great frequency and displeasure.
As a result, we came up with a clever solution. We told our children that every time we hear the words, “I’m bored” (and all versions of boredom: “I’m tired”, “Nothing to do”, etc.), we would assign a chore to do. It didn’t take long before the words slipped out and thereafter, my kids appeared to find ways to occupy their time. Though it is a clever solution (and a great way to get the house cleaned), doing chores does not address their more fundamental struggles.
First, young people struggle with being over-entertained. When left to their own devices, they will often turn first to technology which allows them to be passively entertained rather than actively engaged in a hobby or activity. By spending time on social media, video games, TV or movies, they are, quite literally, entertaining themselves to mindlessness. When there is a moment of silence or inactivity, the adversity of boredom descends upon them and they feel incapable of overcoming it. Assigning a few chores makes them aware of their plight, but it is only an external impetus for behavioral change. They need to learn to engage free time more productively.
Second, we need to help our children foster the neglected gift of stillness. There is something lost when we do not learn to just sit, to be quiet, swing on a hammock or take a walk without something bellowing in our ear. We all need to stop and smell the roses, experience creation, to cease striving and know that He is God. We need to learn to enjoy such moments as a delight, not a period of boredom. Like us, children need to learn to reflect, contemplate, and meditate on the things of God. How will that happen if we do not endeavor to instill this in our children?
Third, kids need to be less self-consumed by their personal comforts and desires and learn to think outside of themselves. There is a world of need, service, job opportunities, education and life to be lived and they need to be nudged (or sometimes dragged) in the right direction. Teens are not going to wake up one day and feel charitable and ask to go serve in the local food pantry. It requires cultivating generosity and a desire to serve. It means instilling in them a willingness to give of both time and resources. As parents, we have to be willing to do the hard work of steering our kids towards service and imparting within them a desire to be other-centered.
So, if your kids are bored at home, you might try the chore response. It does have a certain appeal. But recognize its limitations. It will not instill in them the godly character you really desire for your children. That only comes through careful examination of what captures their affections, and equipping them to thoughtfully steward their free time.
“Have we talked with our children this week about the delights of living more
than the disciplines of living? Have we inspired and guided them more
than we have corrected them?”
– V. Gilbert Beers
Many of you are familiar with a Netflix series that is capturing the attention of middle and high schoolers alike. 13 Reasons Why is based on a novel written by Jay Asher. After classmate and love interest, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, Clay Jensen is left reeling to understand why. He returns home from school to find a package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside, he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah. She tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows along with her taped words, he uncovers the people that impacted her decision—and their secrets. Clay is conflicted with guilt, confusion, and a desire to right the wrongs that have been committed.
The haunting question left for the living is this: “Did I kill Hannah Baker?” Guilt and shame quickly wreak havoc on a group of students whose lives are thrown together by the secrets they are each trying to hide. It ends with a heart break, some secrets being revealed, and some not. If there is anything positive in the message, it is that choices have consequences (at times, very serious ones) and that we all must take responsibility for our own actions.
However, this valid message is greatly overshadowed by the graphic brutality, sexuality and corruption that is displayed as fairly “normal” for kids this age. The program reflects the underlying themes present in many other teen dramas: licentiousness, do what feels good, look out for number one, recreational sex and drug use—all with little redemptive guidance in the drama that unfolds. Parents and other adults are depicted as incompetent, ill-informed people who interfere with what teenage reason knows to be the better way. And though these activities and beliefs may be normal for some adolescents, these programs create a distorted sense of what is typical for American teen culture and set a bad precedent for the average teen/preteen who is watching.
I could rail on the reasons this series should not be targeted to young people and the risks it creates for other youths to take steps similar to Hannah Baker. However, there is something valuable I took away from this story. It is this: Kids need reasons why they should live. They need to find meaning and identity in things that genuinely fulfill. They need hope. And they need to learn how to live.
Have we given our kids 13 reasons why life is worth living? Have we fostered conversations about hard topics? Have we convinced them that no subject is too hard for us to hear, no issue is off limits, and that we can handle even the most intimate details of their lives with genuine love and concern? We must be proactive and foster connections with our young people. When they are tempted to believe what we have to say is inconsequential or inadequate, we must work tirelessly to engage them, proving our value in their lives.
Let teens know they are not alone. Be proactive in addressing hard topics when they are young, before the issues even enter their world. Be a redemptive guide speaking into the corruption they will be forced to wade through. Let them know there is One who fights on their behalf.
Here are 13 reasons you can give your children for why life is worth living:
1. You are not alone. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
2. You have value. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” “Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” (1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 10:31)
3. God cares about your tears. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
4. You can find help. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Psalm 46:1; Hebrews 4:15-16)
5. Your life has purpose. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
6. What you are going through is temporary. “Do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
7. There is a good way forward, even when life is hard. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
8. You are more than your outward appearance. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
9. You cannot imagine what good lies in store for you. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man—the things which God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
10. You will not always feel this way. “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9; Psalm 30:5)
11. You are greatly loved. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” “How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 3:18)
12. You will not be put to shame. “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.” “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Isaiah 54:4; Hebrews 13:5-6)
13. God is up to good in your life. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28)
As parents, live out these 13 reasons yourself! When you talk with your kids, put these reasons into your own words, adorned with your life experience and theirs. And, as appropriate, point them to Scripture where God gives these reasons. Help them to connect the dots from God’s promises to their struggles. The goal is not to quote Scripture at our kids, but to bring truth to life in relevant words and actions. We want to help them see that the Bible speaks of far more than correction and rules. It speaks of life and freedom and personal relationship with a God who knows what is going on in their lives. The challenge is to winsomely and convincingly speak such truths into their experiences. And, when God is present, you will find that there are far more than 13 reasons life is worth living. So keep looking and listening to our living, loving God!
I’ve already told you about my dog Braille. In a blind dog, I saw the goodness of God’s care and provision for the broken things of this world. Through my own growing love and compassion for Braille, I realized that our weaknesses and neediness are not burdensome or repulsive to God. And that in fact, he uses our frailties to reveal himself to us. Little did I know that human frailty was something I was going to face in some profound ways.
In 2013, my son Andrew was diagnosed with a disease that is gradually causing him to lose his vision. When the diagnosis came, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt sick to my stomach as hundreds of implications for his life began to sink in. What dreams would he no longer be able to fulfill? He wanted to be a baseball player or maybe an astronaut. Such things were no longer possible. He wouldn’t be able to ride a bike, learn to drive, or likely live on his own. What would his future be like? Then there was the question of being prepared. “Lord,” I prayed, “I am not equipped to parent a child with this disease. I am the wrong person. I lack the knowledge, skills, and resources to help him. Lord, you’ve given this child the wrong parents. We are incompetent!”
I was quickly baptized into learning what it meant to be the parent of a child with a long term disability. I was now a member of a club that no one is excited to join. I repeatedly asked myself: How could I ever be what he needs? I am not being humble when I say I am the worst person God could have picked for this task. Days need to be spent in hospitals for tests and I am someone who faints at the sight of blood. I am also not an assertive person. Parents of special needs kids have to be their child’s advocate, to be uncomfortably assertive and tenacious. I was not up for the task. We are a large family with two working parents and limited time, energy, and resources. How and why would God think this was possible? There are so many others who are more competent to manage this than me.
And then, how could I tell him? How would I explain to my son that he has a condition that will take his vision away? I was afraid that he would question God and his goodness, and that he might become bitter and angry. I worried that the innocence of his trust in God would be corrupted by his suffering.
However, when God calls us to do something, he also equips us for it. I watched events unfold that demonstrated that he was already at work and knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed Andrew to face this affliction. As we began adjusting to the diagnosis and pursuing resources for Andrew, we saw that the way God uniquely wired him was a resource in itself. Andrew is logical and gifted with figuring things out. For a visually impaired individual, using adaptive technology is a lifeline to communicating with others and becoming self-sufficient. Andrew has a natural propensity for it and took to it easily. Educational facilities and teaching hospitals would smile when he came in because he was so much fun to work with and often showed them how to operate equipment when they forgot! They would brag about how well he was doing, and I watched him beam with pride.
But it all culminated for me on a Sunday afternoon when Andrew was recounting what was taught in Sunday school class that morning. They had discussed the passage in John 9 where the disciples asked Jesus why the blind man was born blind. I cringed as he began talking, wondering how it was handled (many did not yet know of his condition). When he finished talking about the lesson, I asked, “So, what do you take away from the story?” He replied, “Well, I learned that God can take even my disability and use it for good… for his glory. God doesn’t waste anything.”
It brought tears to my eyes. I had not yet used the word disability with him. I had not yet figured out how to help him grasp a good God while experiencing a crippling disease. While I struggled to know how I would speak to my son, God was already doing so and using my son to speak back to me! Andrew was modeling to me that God sees. God is not silent, distant, or uninvolved. He was already working, showing me the benefits of how he wired this boy, and using medical staff, Sunday school teachers, and others to demonstrate that he was present and very engaged.
God knew. He knew that Andrew’s intellect and natural aptitude with technology equipped him for the challenges he would face with this disability. God sees. He knew Andrew’s positive outlook and natural curiosity would help him to use equipment and learn to read braille. God had prepared Andrew for such a time as this.
But then there was still me. Not only did I feel ill-equipped, my thoughts still hovered around the loss I felt. As parents, we want the best for our children. We want to see them thrive and succeed and be all that they can be. I grieved, fearing that this would not be the case for Andrew, or so I thought. And I grieved for all the ways it would impact me and my parenting. I was discouraged by what I would have to learn and the ways in which my life would have to change. It brought out all of my insecurities and weaknesses. I feared that I could not serve him the way he would need to be served.
At some point, I was reminded of this verse: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). So I prayed. My prayer went something like this. “I will boast in my weakness that the power of Christ may be perfected in my life, my parenting, and my son. Though I do not want this for my child, for myself, or for our family…. Lord, let your power shine through our brokenness, and vulnerabilities.” I prayed and prayed—and I began to see God work.
God knew. He knew he would be stretching me and calling me to trust in ways I was not equipped for. He knew it would challenge me to be more assertive. He knew it would shake my confidence but he wanted to show me that can I rest in trusting that he is good and will be my provision. God is up to something good in my life, though it is very challenging. He is also up to something good in Andrew’s life and will continue to use Andrew and who he is—all for his glory.
Once again God has shown me how he sees brokenness. He is not put off by it. Instead he uses it in his plans to reveal himself to us and draw us closer to him. We do not face the future alone. Just as God gave Braille a loving family to care for him, God gives us himself. Our response is to trust him, even when we cannot see.