Monday, 27 October 2014

Dear Teenage Girl

Dear Teenage Girl,

I was you, once. 

I understand how it feels to need the world to affirm you. I know what it is to want to fit in and look the part.  I understand that the world around you sometimes dictates the way you dress and behave. And these days that pressure weighs far more heavily on your skinny shoulders than it did on mine. Everything surrounding you is screaming at you to look like a fake woman, and the screaming never stops. It reaches into your heart and twists, hard, so that eventually you give in. And you try. You try so hard. I can see that.

But, sweet girl, here's the truth. Beneath the sultry pout and the 'messed up bed hair' Facebook profile picture lies a strong, beautiful woman. Under your layers of foundation and heavy eye make-up there is a naked and raw intelligence that our world needs. Inside the body that you stare at in front of the mirror for so long, desperately trying to squeeze and tuck those gorgeous curves away, there is a confident young lady who is stretching out of her crysallis.  Under the 'I want my hair to look like I've just had sex' messy hairstyle lies a brain that is crying out to be used for good purposes.

And guess what? Young men aren't actually looking for a fake woman. 

Young men love your smile. It brings hope and warmth. They're not bothered about whether you can achieve the perfect pout.

The young men I know are searching for a girl they can cherish, just for who she is.

Young men are looking for a girl they can put the world to rights with not a poster girl.

Young men are looking for a girl who is beautiful in her vulnerability and strong in her resolution.

Young men are not looking for a girl who can't leave the house without make-up. Rather, they want to love a girl for her naked confidence.

Young men are looking for a girl who can throw her head back and laugh with abandonment, unconcerned about the whiteness of her teeth.

Young men love your curves. They're not interested in whether your bum squishes out or whether you have draped your half -naked body across a screen in an attempt to find favour.

Young men want to hold your hand and love your heart. They see beyond the mask you paint over yourself and they are in awe of who you really are.

And if they don't want all these things,  are they really the ones you want to give your heart and your body to?

So, beautiful girl, you can give up trying. Just stop.  
Breathe a sigh of relief.  

All you need to be is the courageous, clever, funny and beautiful girl you were made to be. 

And then wait. 

Wait for the one you don't have to try for.

He's worth the wait, I promise.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Good Samaritan?

It seems we have a 'good Samaritan' in our family.  One who simply cannot walk past injustice.  A courageous boy who has to help others, despite any dangers to himself.  A young man who, seeing the world in black and white, launches himself passionately to rescue others.

All of this is to be nurtured and celebrated.  In fact, it's exciting to know that if we do support him and help him to shape his passion for justice then he can, in his own way, be a part of the fight against injustice across the world.  Who knows what this could lead to?  I don't.

But at the moment he is 10 years old and the injustices that are in front of him are the ones on the playground.  Always impulsive, when he sees someone being hurt he intervenes.  And he intervenes physically.  He hasn't developed mentally enough yet to know that it's not always a good idea to throw someone to the ground at school but he's certainly strong enough to hurt them.  In that split-second moment of anger at the injustice in front of him, he forgets about the fact that he might get into trouble with the teachers and he doesn't care about the beating he might get from the other children.  He just throws himself in to rescue the 'victim'.

Then he finds himself in a detention for fighting, and rightly so.  Consequences are important.

And so we find ourselves walking this difficult line of encouraging his inbuilt passion for justice but helping him to find other ways of outworking it.  Of course its not acceptable for him to punch someone simply because they punched someone else.  But in his black and white world of retribution and vengeance, he is only doing the right thing.

I wonder about the good Samaritan in the story Jesus told.  This was a man who also couldn't walk past, unlike the Pharisees.  He helped someone he was supposed to hate.  Like our boy, he put aside any thoughts of danger to himself and he went out of his way to save this man's life.  But I wonder what he would have done if he'd come across the man a few hours earlier, when he was being beaten almost to death by the robbers.  Would this Samaritan man have risked his life to save someone else?  Of course, it's only a story and we don't know the answer to this hypothetical question but I do know that some people are made to fight injustice.  They can't look away.  And our boy is one of them.

So we have no choice but to continue shaping and whittling away at this boy, one of our three arrows.  Sometimes we have no idea what to do or say that will help him to learn to use his passions for good.  We will not force him to squash them down or hide them away.  We will encourage him to be the young man he was made to be.  As parents, this is our job and not to be delegated to anyone else.  But it's not an easy tightrope for us to walk across and mistakes, of which there will be plenty,   can have scary consequences.

We know this boy is most definitely a challenge but, mercifully, we love a challenge and we love him.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When blindness is the only way forwards.

Perhaps I was a strange child (and that would explain a lot about my boys), but when I was younger I used to enjoy walking around the house with my eyes closed, pretending to be blind.  I enjoyed the feeling of not quite knowing what was coming up next.  It was vulnerable.  I knew the layout, of course.

But sometimes, in my minds eye, I would imagine that a step or a piece of furniture was closer than it was in reality.  I would move my legs and prepare myself for it only to have a surprise when I realised I hadn't quite reached it yet.  Anyone else experienced this or is it just strange old me?

The thing is, the piece of furniture was still there.  I just had a few more steps to take before I reached it.  It hadn't disappeared.

It's the same with the dreams that have been planted, some very long ago, in my heart.  

When you can't see what's in front of you and you walk by faith alone, sometimes you imagine things are closer than they really are.  They feel close enough to reach out and touch, because your heart tells you that you simply cannot continue without knowing they are finally at your fingertips.  Surely it's time to grasp hold of all that has been weighing heavy in your heart.  

And when this happens to me, I begin to prepare myself for a different movement, excited that this is the time.  

And then it isn't.  And I'm surprised and confused.

And I have to do something with the dreams and promises that refuse to be pushed down any longer. I have to stop trying to peek out of the corner of my eye and remember that walking by faith is just that. It's not by sight.  You can't see ahead, and you're not supposed to.

All I know is that there are some more steps to be taken.  I can't jump from here to there.  I have to walk it.  

And I have to keep tight hold of those dreams for a while longer.  They are still there, just like that piece of furniture, solid and waiting for me.  I haven't made a mistake or got the wrong end of the stick.  They hang there, over my days, like a banner calling me towards them.  I can't turn around and head back now.

So, I keep my eyes closed and plod ahead, tentatively sometimes, grateful that my God knows the layout and will direct my steps.  I keep learning to walk by faith, without peeking out through scrunched up eyes.  Like my childhood game, it's vulnerable but it's the only way.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Honour

This very special badge has found it's way into our family this week.

And even better is that the Deputy Headboy is his best buddy and partner in crime.  The pair of them will be a force to be reckoned with.  We are very proud.

But are we more proud of him now than we were before he had this badge pinned onto his blazer?  Absolutely not.

This boy has worked hard consistently.  He has shown leadership skills and managed responsibility well since he was very little.  It's what he's good at and so we have encouraged him to be all he was made to be.

But there are some words of warning too.

Our job is not only to encourage him in his strengths, but also to warn him of the dangers.  Power brings responsibility.  It can be used to bring great joy but also to cause enormous damage.  As parents, we need to steer him and teach him to be the best he can be, but to continue in humility and looking to serve others before himself.  This new role will be full of opportunities for him to learn these important lessons and this, more than anything else, is why I am excited he has been chosen.  A year-long learning curve for my boy.

We also need to remember that within a family, each person has their own strengths.  As the first child, Toby is not setting any standard for which the others must aim.  He is being himself.  The others will not have any expectation from us to follow in his footsteps, but simply to be all they were made to be too.  Everyone is brilliant at something.  Our job as parents is to find that 'something' in each of our children and draw it out of them so they can excel and grow.  And whilst we have one very strong leader who is gifted academically, we also have a boy who is fearless, brimming with compassion and ready to fight the injustices of the world.  The little one is more persistent than a dripping tap, curious about the world around him and full of fun.  Each one is beautifully individual.  Each one walks a different path.  Each one requires a different hand on the shoulder.

So, Headboy or not, our parenting privilege of shaping and guiding continues.  What an honour.