Let’s Talk- Identity Part 2

My son has a conversation problem.

Aiden is 5, Carter is 9.  Aiden can, and will, talk your ear off.  Carter didn’t happen to inherit his brother’s social abilities.  He likes to talk, don’t get me wrong, it can just be painful at times.  He tries, hard, to get approval from the ones around him.  We started enjoying some of the “older” Disney Channel shows that feature kids in school and, as we were watching yesterday, I was wondering about his future since he starts fourth grade and will be making his way to middle school soon enough.

Navigating social waters isn’t easy.

Some of my best memories were family dinners at my grandmother’s house.  We would eat the meal and desert, tables cleared, and cardtable top applied.  The games would commence.  I remember it took time before I had a seat at the table but, eventually, I was dealt in to some intense hands of Pinochle.

My grandfather and my dad were involved, my uncles and sometimes other family members.  I think it was there where I learned to talk.  My uncles, Lonnie and John, always had stories.  They always had a way to make you laugh and draw you into the conversation. It was these nights where I picked up the ebb and flow of what it meant to build social interaction.

Underlying anxiety speaks to a larger issue.

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Carter hasn’t had things easy the past few years.  He’s a great kid, athletic and active.  He’s also sensitive. We’ve dealt with bullying and that hasn’t helped anything. He wants to be liked. We all do.

We stand on the bridge of life pulled in two opposing directions:  I want others to like me.-I want to like myself.

For someone like Carter, those sides are often out of balance.

I believe it is that way for a lot of us.

Scroll through Facebook and you’ll find plenty of inspirational images about Capturing the Day! Hustling!  and You Be You! Even with these messages (and the people behind them making millions from seminars, books and podcasts) the drive is still there.  We still want to be liked, to be loved, to be accepted.

My goal for Carter this summer is to start helping navigate the social waters, to think about his attitude and mindset and be aware of what he’s doing when he’s doing it. To find security in himself.  For a kid that has dealt with anxiety, that is a steep mountain to climb.

Let’s take it down a deeper level and get real.  As parents, we want our kid to be liked.  I wasn’t the prom king or anything near that, but I had friends in a few different circles.  I didn’t have any deep friends and I dealt with bullying myself. I remember that feeling, like one of those cartoon black holes that opened under Wiley Coyote when he was chasing the Roadrunner, that space that felt like it would swallow me up.  Time slowed to a stop. It felt like being pinned against a wall by stares and comments, laughter and pointing. It felt like it would never end.

I don’t want that for Carter.

I don’t believe there is any surprise to the rise in teenage suicide rates.  The humiliation is easier to see and spread.  What was once material in the cafeteria or playground is shared to thousands on social media at the touch of a button. Kids don’t see a way out.

The company line, for those of us who profess a life of faith in following Jesus, is that we find our identity with him as a new creation. I believe this. I also know the hurt is real.  I’ve seen it in Carter’s eyes.

Security comes in impermanence, in knowing that it too shall pass.  In knowing that those hurting others were probably hurt themselves and only doing what they know.

Parenting is not easy.  Each day they get older.  Each day brings new highs and lows, challenges and success. The trick is to not miss a moment, to grasp and use it, to know that the moments will fade, the scars will heal. Life goes on.

I remember, as a kid, standing next to my dad at the beach.  We’d stand where the waves were just ending and watch as the sand was pulled back away and our feet were buried with the current.  Maybe that’s the point.

We are either moving towards the glorious turbulence of a fulfilled life or away from it, back on to the sand.  We must keep moving because, if we stand still, we’ll sink.

Measuring Up

My most recent blog post for our church’s website will go live on Monday.  We are in the midst of a series on dealing with drastic changes in life and it is on the power of the comparison trap.

It is too easy to paralyze ourselves as we see others succeed.

Some people thrive from comparisons. They live to compete, always have the finish line in sight, and chase goals with tenacity. The thrill of victory is enough.

For the rest of us, competition is much harder.

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I was never a Type A personality. Give me a book on a quiet Saturday afternoon, and I’m set. My motivation was intrinsic, not placed against outside forces.

I was the kid that responded to the individual recognition for the end result, not the race to the finish. Let me work in a vacuum and I’ll survive.

Probably the reason writing lives deep in my soul.

As you age, you realize this kind of success is impossible. There is no vacuum. All it takes is the first bad experience to know you will play a part in the environment around you no matter what you choose.

I remember the negative moments of my youth, the teasing and unkind words. I remember going to college and realizing the world is much bigger, that the point was to find your own identity and maybe getting a job would be the answer.

Then you realize the bullies took a different form as middle managers bent on making your days as rough as possible. There would always be someone grasping for power in their own kingdom.

You get married and have kids and do your best to help them find a safe path while learning how to process the bad things as they come.

The blog post on Monday scares me more than any other I’d written for the church.  It cut deeply. I’d felt like that kid again, that victim wondering why I was getting picked on and just wanting to disappear.

I believe God turns our scars into stories. Looking back is an important step in looking forward and finding the way to truly be free. Life is a journey and these tough nights and weeks are a part of the bigger picture.

The picture that will take shape into more beauty than we’d ever imagine.

~Matt

 

 

 

 

What to do When They Hate You

I was a freshman in college at West Chester University, seated in my Humans and the Environment class in September, 2001. The professor made her way into the room holding a sheet of paper she had printed from “the Internet.”

She told us that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, paused, then started class.  After it was over, I waited for the bus from North Campus to pick us up and return us to our dorms.  When it arrived, students exited and many were visibly upset.  I had no idea what happened.

Until I flipped on the television.

In the span of a morning, almost fifteen years ago now, everything had changed. We woke up on September 12th with a new view of the world.

We realized that someone out there saw America as an enemy. They hated us.

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Flash back years before to middle school.  We had just purchased our year books.  The tradition was to pass around our books so others could sign them.  I remember looking in the back of someone’s book and seeing a paragraph mentioning my name with a derogatory comment.  This person had signed every book in the same fashion.

He didn’t like me.

Now we are living in one of the most exclusionary times in recent memory. There is a race to victimization, to rebel, to grasp for power against imperfect systems.  There are people calling themselves believers holding tight to fear, prejudice, and discrimination.

Jesus told us we would be persecuted by those in the World as we followed his teachings, but to not worry as he had overcome the world.

There is a calendar hanging at work, one with the Bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” on the month of September.  I had one man tell me he would forgive me for hanging it up and that he was offended.

So how do we respond?

Two things to think about:

1-Does your faith drive or pull you? God doesn’t owe us anything. Yes, Jesus taught us how to pray and told us that God will answer prayers, but is that the point? God is not the ATM in the sky.  God is the force that calls us to make a difference.  Faith is not a transaction or condition.

As humans we believe, then shake our fists at our suffering.

Faith is an engine.  It is the power driving us forward to rejoice in all circumstances, to pray without ceasing, to love those who hate us, to live without the pull of guilt. To follow Jesus in a new and radical way of existence. Faith and grace are hand in hand, erasing the transactions and evening the balances.

2-Can you let go?

Stephen, in the Bible, was the first person killed for his faith.  We read that, as he was stoned, he prayed for the forgiveness of the men killing him. We also read that, as he was dying,  the heavens opened and Stephen saw Jesus standing at the throne of God. This is the only point in the Bible where Jesus is noted as standing by the throne.

In Kentucky, there is a clerk defying the Supreme Court and refusing to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her “faith.” There is a scene where Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Rome.  He replies with a question about the image on a Roman coin.  The crowd tells him that Caesar’s image is on the coin. He then says:

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.

He tells the crowd to pay their taxes.  Be good citizens and still own their faith.

She needs to do her job because she claims to follow Jesus, the issuer of the commandment to Love our Neighbors, not close the door in their faces.

I remember the middle school yearbook because it hurt me.  We remember all our scars and moments of pain. Our faith allows us to keep moving, be shaped into a new creation, and watch the scars turn into beauty.  When our focus shifts to others, we find peace.

I don’t know about you but, right now, peace is exactly what I need.

~Matt

A Post for My Son’s Bully

Carter is doing kindergarten this year for a second time.  He’s a mid-August birthday and we started him too young last year for his first shot at elementary school.  He’s asked us, more than once, why he isn’t in first grade with his friends.  This morning he was really upset when Val dropped him off at school.  I called and talked to his guidance counselor.  She talked to him and he seemed to feel better.

Then we had baseball practice.

A kid he was in class with last year is on the team and this kid does not let up with the questions as to why Carter isn’t in first grade.  Today it escalated to insults. “Carter can’t hit. Carter can’t throw.  Carter’s a failure (yes, he actually said it.) He’s a big crybaby, etc.”

I was pitching when this was going on and I can’t tell you what it was like throwing to Carter while he was standing there trying his hardest not to cry. As a dad, saying it breaks your heart is an understatement and this is why:

I was picked on in school and, to this day, I can remember every moment of it.

Carter and I stopped and got dinner after practice.  I asked Carter if he likes this kid and he said yes, they are friends, but he doesn’t like when he is mean.

He has his mother’s heart and a soul that cares about the world, even one who hurts him.

So, for this kid, this bully, I have a message.

You will not win.

You will be overcome by the gracious heart of a child willing to look past your antics and be your friend.

You will plant a seed in Carter that grows his heart even wider and deeper, allowing him to love others and stand up when he sees someone being bullied because of empathy, because he was there once when you put him there.

You will be a catalyst that makes my son a better man, father, and husband.

You will not break his soul, deaden his passion, or make him feel like lesser of a person.

You will be a teaching point, a moment in his past that he can learn from and use to build himself into a stronger person.

The hardest thing, as a parent, is to find a balance.  My gut is to grab control and stamp it out immediately. I also know I can’t always be with him, that he’s on his own at school five days a week and will need to navigate his social situation.  This is new territory.

Before bed, I knelt before him and promised him that I would always be there. I told him I would look out for him and that he was the more important than he would ever know.  He hugged me and said, “I love you daddy” and that is all the fuel I need to wake up in the morning and do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

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