Response to “A Letter to Teenagers”

I understand why this letter has gone viral and been so popular, but when I saw it on Facebook this morning (before I read the above article) These were my thoughts.

~ ~ ~

This letter is a good start (in the sense that we all need to be reminded to do what we can, and quit expecting others to do it for us) but these words don’t provide what I needed as a teen, and that was personalized direction.

I was a KID. I was even one who didn’t claim to know everything. And I didn’t know on my own which way to go other than to “be good.” And that is WAY to vague for most kids.

I was a good kid by most standards, and this letter being given to me would have made me feel simultaneously furious and helpless.

He’s just told me to get out of his way and quit being vocal about the fact that I have needs I don’t know how to meet.

All my life I had a drive to “make a difference” and “be involved,” but I did not have the skill/know-how/authority to make much of anything happen on my own.

Weekly visits to the nursing home (at 13) were with an adult, who eased me into being unafraid. Joining worship team (at 17 or 18) and before that forming a youth version (when I was 15) required an adult sponsor to give us access to the stage and sound equipment.

Even now, in my 30s, I know the fastest, most efficient way to know how best to apply my talents comes from outside help.

Why do you think “life coaching” even exists as a profession? We want solid, reliable input. Wise people don’t want to be limited to their own experience.

It always feels good to tell off people who are making your life more complicated, and the writer was described as “a judge who regularly deals with youth.”

I guess most of the readers/repeaters are parents, and AMEN! because they feel similarly pressed.

These parents have been dealing with and giving, like the judge says, and yes it’s perfect for the youth to “accept some of the responsibility your parents have carried for years.”

But I for one was never the kid who could look at a mess, see what needs to be done, and “just do it.”

I am BARELY that kind of adult.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from becoming a grown-up, it’s that the growing. never. ends.

And parenting (best as I can tell) is a lot of inconvenience.

We’re allowed to gripe, and call it hard, like it is, but eventually we have to swallow the frog; reenter the inconvenience of life-as-parent ’cause, really, nothing gets done until we do.

We have to change that diaper, find a bandaid, teach a concept and (Lord-Willing) cultivate a sense of self that will allow that child to develop a personal vision and motivation that will equip him or her to finally accept everything in his letter as a reasonable expectation.

Self-discovery as a path to holiness

Sanctification starts not with rules but with the forsaking of pride.

Purity begins with our determined refusal to hide from the condition of our hearts. Out of self-discovery, honestly done, humility may grow, and in humility, meekness; a quiet, unswerving, gentle strength.

Because once you honestly know yourself, and recognize the coexistence of self-acceptance and grief over your own sin, you have a model for graciously treating the sinners that continually surround us.

I’ve run across people who object to “self-discovery” as a waste of time.

They are the type that may dismissively refer to inner work as “navel gazing,” and self-absorption. Something “good Christians” (in particular) know better than to waste time on.

In contrast, I think of pursuing self-discovery as understanding all the inner whys. Perhaps because I’m a novelist and I’m always looking at motivation, I feel as though understanding the root will give me more tools.

Who we are now is a summation of everything that has come before.

A lot of good Christian folks I know (including me) stumble and stutter with the concept of Testimony. Testimony being that thing that describes the difference Christ has made in one’s life; testimony being the glowing After that one now lives in, in contrast to the dark Before.

Our recent attendance at Fairbanks Recovery Church has provided lots of examples of these, but the blessed openness of these testifiers also provides insight to those without the dramatic before.

We need a better set of words. There is a dangerously binary slant the the pair, Before & After.

The best I have to offer is Before & Now.

What these brave testifiers testify to is that they are not After. The struggle is ongoing; that they must continue to “die daily,” to surrender to light and truth for strength in their lives.

They know how bad “the dark side” is, having lived it, but they still feel it’s pull.

“The cravings never go away,” one man said Sunday. “What’s up with that?!”

And I start to get a corner of other types of testimony.

Continue reading »

7-minute Trailer for Part-1 of The Hobbit

First of all, I think this idea is delightful– taking all the clips released so far and putting them in chronological order.

Second, I just figured out they’re releasing it in three movies (not two as I first thought), one per Christmas for the next two years then the third for the following summer’s blockbuster season.

Can I just say: This feels disingenuous.

I liked the idea of a two-part movie. I liked that we’re not squishing things too tight to include all the characters and iconic moments (P&P 2005 comes to mind).

But for the stretch to three, I anticipate a swirly of self-gratifying (LotR) backstory that is plain not-necessary for the enjoyment of this story.

Bppblt. But no one asked me.

I really wish they’ll do it well, but I don’t have high hopes.

All that out of the way, here’s the really-cool editing job. (Thanks for the link Kaye!)

Hurt People Hurt People

It’s not an excuse or a justification.

It’s simply a fact.

As a creator of fiction, one of my jobs is to make a story make sense.

At times I’m sure this is my primary motivation for writing: to have a place where stories make sense. As in, now.

Villains aren’t just evil to make life difficult for the main character; that’s too narrow a purpose. That’s living for someone else, and far too selfless for the best villains as I imagine them.

~ ~ ~

Antagonist is a more broadly applicable word than villain.

Most of us will not encounter a terrifying villain, in the same way that most of us will not change the world in any masses-remembered way.

I’m just talking statistics here. How many people do you remember of the billions that have come before?

It’s a math thing, not a despair thing.

And many, many people face villains the way that many people make a difference in a way known only to few.

How widely something is known does not change the power or significance of what we experience.

Antagonists may be out specifically to hurt us, for reasons of their own, or they may simply be thinking of themselves, pursuing their own goals, and we get run over in the process.

I highly doubt the individual who stole my iPhone last week heard my nutrition talk, took personal offense at my content or my speaking style and decided to take my phone to spite me.

Far more likely is the scenario when s/he saw the cracked thing in its dirty case, unattended, and decided it was worth taking.

Really it had nothing to do with me, personally, but it has seriously disrupted my life, and disappointed me (in no small measure because it was taken at a gathering of Christians).

Yes we’re allowed to be disappointed. That we’re warned doesn’t mean our feelings and reactions are tied.

What we’re left with is how we will respond to the hurt that comes into our lives.

Because if we’ve been hurt, we have hurt other people.

This is really hard to think about when we’ve been hurt really badly.

We see and feel our own hurt, and depending on many things, our own hurt can be big enough that it fills up all our available vision.

We might not see what we are doing to others, and what’s even sadder, we might not care.

The reason I call this even sadder is that this attitude (I’ve been hurt so much I shouldn’t have to be careful.) frequently drives the next iteration of wounding.

The fact is, we’re all hurt. And that ties us to the truth that we have hurt others.  May still be in the process of hurting others.

And ignoring this reality won’t make it go away.

Two responses I see are necessary: awareness and humility.

Continue reading »

More Doesn’t Keep Being More

Image courtesy of Claudio Jule via stock.xchng

In contrast to the popular saying,

Money can’t buy happiness

there is this study that shows a fairly tight correlation between money and a lot of good things. (Here’s another eye-opening view, if you go in prepared for anger and crass language.)

I liked reading about this study when it came out, because I’d always thought along the lines that money has got to simplify a LOT of things and how most of the “simple freebies” that are cozy and fuzzy-edged in any story aren’t so accessible.

I mean, I do those things, and they’re not necessarily cheap and accessible.

  • Musical instruments you actually *want* to play are a pretty penny.
  • Pets/animals take work and money.
  • Craft supplies that are enjoyable to use usually can’t be found at the thrift store
  • Even simple “hanging out” with friends involves cost to someone– either in transportation, food, or entertainment.

Free is really less common than storytelling will admit.

It is this common sense awareness of increased money = improved life that gets us into trouble.

When we see, Oh, more money is better life, we don’t see that topping out– until it does.

This is why you don’t see movies about poor people realizing their two jobs plus night school are eating away at their family life and just. not. worth it.

It’s the rich executive or the workaholic mom who have to choose family over acquiring even-greater wealth.

~ ~ ~

All that to say that we educated types have the same relationship with information.

Continue reading »

What you CAN do

This is what I wrote on the side of our fridge Saturday afternoon:

Focus on what you CAN do,
Rather than what you don’t know.

It came out of an interaction with Elisha that morning, where he *PANICKING!* was running out of time to finish emptying the dishwasher.

“Where does this go?” he’d gasp, running from the kitchen. “What about this?”

And I kept telling him, with increasing irritation, “There’s a whole dishwasher of things you do know what to do with. Save what you don’t know for later.”

It was weird because I always put away the esoteric stuff anyway, like canning funnels or flour sifters.

But it was that fridge line that became the mantra, to the point that I wrote it where we’ll all see it 16-times each day.

It’s a funny (odd) line to think on, as there’s not the parallelism you’d expect.

Image courtesy of Sue Byford via stock.xchng

But is wasn’t until the kids were down for the night, and I was alone in the house (Jay was gone for the weekend, catching salmon to stock our freezer.) that I saw that morning conversation as foreshadowing.

Have you ever seen foreshadowing in your own life? I’d love to hear about it.

Alone with my thoughts is not always a safe place to be, because (like my darling children) I have the ability to escalate.

And as a fairly intelligent adult, my escalations have the terrifying ability to be plausible.

Over the last two years (maybe I’ll tell that story someday) I’ve discovered the tar pit of anxiety, along with depression. It’s a tricky place for me, because my understanding of intellectual honesty is that you don’t pull back from an idea just because it gets uncomfortable.

So I’ve assumed for years that being uncomfortable is part of the process of being honest.

I ran into trouble when there were so many variables that a specific, concrete truth was not knowable.

That’s something I saw Saturday night.

A new data point entered my world, with a kaleidoscope of refracting possibilities. I could actually feel the tension in my chest preparing for take-off. Then I walked by

Focus on what you CAN do,
Rather than what you don’t know.

For the tiniest instant it felt like lying to myself. It felt like sticking my head in the sand.

But no “truth-telling” or looking closer at the problem would have resolved it. Continue reading »

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 13): Life is working. Even though it’s Work.

So, to follow-up after that peaceful, grateful post about Rest, I realized it’s been a long time since I made a list of the stuff I’m engaged in. When it turned out to be seven distinct items, and I realized it was Friday, I knew I needed to jump back to Jen’s 7 Quick Takes Friday this week.

Here’s my “life activity list” the list in roughly the order of time consumed:

~ 1 ~

Managing the food.

It still feels weird to say this takes the most time.

I think this is because– judging by our stories: novels, movies, anecdotes among friends– food is invisible.  It just happens. I wish I lived in that sort of house/body. But I don’t.)

~ 2 ~

Managing the household and extras

Technically this ties back into the food, since food makes dishes.

Basically anything I have to wash clean or put away, along with the animals and outdoor work.

Now that the snow’s melted I am discovering all sorts of new work…

And honestly, it’s a toss-up about whether #1 or #2 takes more time.

~ 3 ~

Teaching the kids.

Reading, writing and arithmetic are the emphasis, but we also read novels along with books of science, history and whatever else strikes our fancy.

As I have more energy I also hope to do more management-training (items from the previous categories).  Currently I do most of that stuff because the *extra* required to get someone else into doing certain jobs is the extra I don’t have.

~ 4 ~

On-line Stuff.

Reading and writing and listening to music on-line (YouTube). Keeping up with some TV shows on Hulu (Castle, Bones, and Body of Proof).

~ 5 ~

Off-Line Stuff

Reading and writing and listening to music not-on-line.

My current goal is to swap these last two categories in terms of time.

I’ve had a surge of progress on my 2010 NaNo novel, and taken on a reading challenge that has forced me to look hard at what and why I read. I hope it will inform what I write.

~ 6 ~

Fiber work

On the edges of my life (and usually away from home).

I have the knitting I do a couple hours every Sunday morning (during the sermon and Sunday school), and the hand-spinning I do when I’m going to be semi-on-display. Continue reading »

Second-Borns and Authority

There are many families in our church with children of similar age.

A few years back, this led to an observation that the 2nd-children of the families, while every bit as sweet (we have an *amazing* group of kids. I just love ’em), the 2nds were distinctly less compliant than the oldests.

This isn’t to imply that *all* of the oldests were compliant, just that, set on a scale the 2nds were all less so than their older siblings.

It was from this observation I came up with my current theory about birth-order and response to authority.

It goes like this:

When you’ve got an oldest/only child raised in a healthy home, s/he is interacting directly with his/her source of authority; learning about the reliability of the authority figures; learning the consistency of their motivation and the extent of their power (e.g. of enforcement).

When you add a younger child to the same environment, you have the same reliability/consistency etc, but you also now have the older child.

In my experience the older sibling can act in proxy for the adults (e.g. carrying messages), or they may freelance (offer a command based on their own authority/desires).

I contend this is where s/lower compliance comes from.  It comes from the extra layer of filtering the younger child (feels s/he) must do before deciding how or whether to act. If nothing else the extra questions create a response-lag, or a suspicious orientation toward authority.

Continue reading »

Speaking of Homeschooling

Here’s a reprint from about two-and-a-half years ago.  Because the idea of ambassador is one I want to keep in front of me. For many reasons.

I mentioned  that life will be getting even busier soon since school will be starting, then added the clarification that we are homeschooling.

“Oh,” says Person-A, “Will Jay be teaching them math?”

“He could,” I said, surprised at the question and not wanting to make Jay look bad by saying he’s not currently planning on doing any of the teaching.

“I was just thinking he ought to be able to,” Person-A finished.

Then (this was my moment of lucidity) I realized Person-A had just insinuated it took an engineer to teach 1st-grade math.

“Are you implying,” I asked, genuinely hoping to embarrass him, “That I can’t teach 6-year-old math?”

Yes, that’s what he was implying.  He didn’t even try to defend himself.

I was surprised, but shrugged it off.  It wasn’t important to me what he thought.

It wasn’t until later that night, thinking again of the leggy Darwin fish on the car in his driveway, and remembering the sign during voting season for the local fellow I wasn’t voting for, that I began to feel something about our interaction wasn’t right.

And then this morning I realized that I had gone into the conversation utterly unprepared.

I had gone to admire a delicious new baby and prattle family small-talk and keep up positive neighborhood relations.

It was not in my mind that I was entering as an ambassador of Christ, and Homeschooling, and Conservative Thought, and Purposeful Parenting.

Lord-willing, that will never happen again.

I acted as though I was a friend among familiars, being sloppy in my explanations and imprecise in my reasons.  In short, I did more to reinforce any (diminished) view they may have of those things than to correct it.

And maybe it wasn’t that bad, but the problem is that I didn’t enter as an ambassador, aware of what I represented.  If I’d had the right mentality going in, I know I would have done better (If I’d only know this was a job interview…).

I might have recognized the “playing” of me and my ideas before the next day, and maybe refused to play.  I want to think I’d still not be offended (it never serves a diplomat’s goals or purpose to be offended), but I could have been more “professional” and less of an airhead.

Again, not that I’m sure I was the opposite extreme, it’s just that I muffed a fine opportunity to muck up their stereotypes.

And I find that disappointing.

All the same, I haven’t yet learned how to respond politely to subtle insults, and it occurs to me that had I fully known what was going on I might have been a poorer representative of Christ than I otherwise was.


I’m a defender. It’s what I do– often without thinking about it.

I see someone on the defensive doing poorly, I jump in on their side.  Especially if it’s an argument I know and think I could do better than them.

I think I lost a friend this way last year.  He hasn’t spoken to me the same way since I took the other side of his literal-6-days creation debate.  It is in my nature to try and homogenize, to find the perfect faerie* argument to make everything “technically” mesh.

For the record: I think the “specific Hebrew word for a 24-hour day” argument is weak.  The argument that brings me to a literal creationist stance (which, for the record, I hold) is my belief from scripture that death did not exist before the Fall.  Therefore, billions of deaths over millions of years– in order to get to a human creature, sentient and capable both of communion with God and division from him– is not possible.

I have a high degree of empathy– the ability to get into other people’s heads or emotions and imagine how certain things affect them.  As a result I can take far too much responsibility for their comfort.  For their feelings.

And I recently figured out that to be healthy as me I have to quit thinking so much of others.

Whoa! Is a Christian allowed to say that?

You see for about three years now, about as long as I’ve been homeschooling, I’ve been feeling responsible to keep my choices (for example, to homeschool) from making other parents feel guilty for making a different choice.

Before that it was about being a stay-at-home mom, but it seems more people do that with preschoolers so I didn’t feel the separation as keenly.

The point is, I imagined how I’d feel if I were the other parent, and I downplayed the significance of our different choices because, well, if she wanted to be home, I didn’t want her to feel bad, and even if she didn’t, I wanted very much to avoid any possible conflict or fight over which choice was better or (an even worse word) “correct.”

This sheltering or defending of others has continued as Jay and I made our lives more complicated and atypical: gluten-free, debt-free, tiny house, homegrown (I like to call it “ethical”) meat.

I’ve avoided talking about our choices, especially the whys, because I didn’t want to draw such stark lines as I knew they’d create.

So I basically said what anybody chooses doesn’t matter, because we’re all different, with different needs and different stages.  And while that’s true, and I really don’t want to create a hierarchy or polarize folks, it killed me emotionally.

Because I had just said– continually said, over years— that what I invested in, the hard stuff I chose because it was important to me and I felt it was worth it and made a difference– Didn’t. matter.

And I don’t want to do that any more.  This is where I need to be my defender and trust everyone else to be grown-up enough to own and love their own decisions.

I’m certainly not going to pick any fights, but I’m going to quit being embarrassed of how hard I work. I do it for real reasons, and those reasons carry me through. Make me stick with things even when they’re hard.

What I do is valuable. Not something to kick under the bed like the shoes my husband won’t get rid of.  I’m proud of what I do. It is important and worth defending.



*Faerie are creepy to me on a couple levels.  The main one is their commitment to the truth– as it is useful to them.  Their methodology is to manipulate the “mortal” they speak with by speaking nothing but the *exact* truth.  Of course they will direct, imply and manipulate to their purpose’s end, but they will never be culpable to the charge that they ever spoke falsehood.

When I talk of me speaking faerie I mean it in terms of working words or reality as a puzzle that I’m trying (by means of the exactness or slipperiness of language) to meld differing views enough to bring cooperation if not true peace.

And in case anyone needs me to add it, no I don’t believe in faeries. They’re just a usefully specific type of truth-teller, and I like having a precise vocabulary.