Lessons from Teenagers on Friendship

Friendship

Most of you know that earlier this month, my older daughter spent four days in the hospital with meningitis. I blogged about the change in perspective it brought here.

While we were in the hospital, though, I learned something else. I knew my daughter had some great friends. I knew that they enjoyed all the fun, silly things that teenagers do. What I didn’t know was that these kids had mastered the art of friendship in the tough times.

Being a teenager is hard. Navigating through relationships of all kinds is difficult at any age but especially in the teen years where kids are just learning how to be a friend.

But while my daughter was in the hospital, we discovered that these teenagers — these 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old kids — had mastered friendship in ways that a lot of adults I know have not.

We weren’t out of the ER before some of my daughter’s closest friends had shown up with snacks and flowers. Those same friends were in her hospital room every single day we were there — watching movies, making up silly games and just hanging out. They even threw my daughter a birthday party on the day hers was supposed to be, complete with cake, balloons and party hats. It’s summer. There are an awful lot of things that teenagers can be doing, but those kids spent hours in a hospital room entertaining my daughter.

On top of the visitors, my daughter received cards, posters, texts, Snapchats, prayers and phone calls. Her friends that couldn’t come to the hospital because my daughter’s visitors were restricted wrapped her up in love every way they knew how without physically seeing her.

Because these teens have learned something important. They have learned that love shows up. Friendship means more than just hanging out and having a good time. It means jumping in with both feet when something goes wrong. It means wrapping your friend up in love when they need it. It means showing up and offering a hug and a shoulder to cry on.

Those teenage kids were Jesus with skin on to my daughter. They loved her through those days in ways that I could not. And I am so very grateful that God placed those kids in my daughter’s life. I’m in awe of the depth of friendship that these teenagers have created. A bunch of 13-, 14- and 15-year-old kids showed they truly understand the words of John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

For nearly a week, I watched these kids lay down their lives for my daughter, and I learned a lot about what God’s picture of friendship looks like. And I am inspired to make my friendships look the same.

The Power of Friendship

difference

I wrote this post on Monday about how much our kids need friendships that are more than surface deep and focus on the important things. I had no idea that on Tuesday I was going to get to watch just how powerful those friendships can be.

I took my older daughter to the doctor yesterday morning. She hurt her knee playing soccer Saturday night, and after a couple of days of watching her try to convince me it was fine, I decided it was time to get an expert opinion.

The doctor took X-rays and moved her knee around a bit. Then he said the words every soccer player dreads hearing: “I think it might be your ACL.” My daughter heard those three little letters, and for her, the world stopped spinning. An ACL tear is one of the worst injuries that can happen to a soccer player. It’s surgery and months of rehab. Recovery time is nine months.

Now, we don’t know for sure that my daughter’s is torn. We go in on Monday for an MRI to find out, but just the possibility of an ACL tear devastated my daughter. She has worked so hard to play soccer at the level at which she plays it. She’s sacrificed other activities, family time, sleepovers and junk food. She loves playing soccer more than she loves doing anything else in the world.

We made it out of the doctor’s office before she burst into tears. I gave her some time to get herself back together before taking her back to school. During that time, I texted a friend of mine who is the mom of a couple of my daughter’s friends. Within minutes, there were texts on my daughter’s phone simply commiserating with her. They were short (both kids were in school) but they were enough that my daughter didn’t feel totally alone.

When my daughter got home from school, she was still pretty upset. But then I got to watch something beautiful and amazing. My daughter has three friends (the two who texted her earlier and a girl on her soccer team) who really understand what this type of injury means for someone like her. And I watched all evening as they showered her with texts commiserating with her, encouraging her and reminding her that God is a good God, and He’s got even this covered.

The maturity and wisdom these friends showed in encouraging my daughter, and the love they poured out on her were truly awesome. I watched my daughter go from ugly-cry devastated to feeling like she could handle the situation — all because her friends had her back.

Never underestimate the power your kids have to make a difference. So often, we hear about kids bullying each other or about the mean girls who gossip about everything. What we often miss, though, is that our kids have just as much power to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. And it doesn’t take a lot of money or time. It just takes caring and being willing to reach out.

My daughter is an introvert. She’s pretty shy. It takes time to get to know her. These friends have invested that time. They’ve pushed through some of the walls she puts up to keep the world out. Yesterday, I watched her friends ask her how she felt. I watched my daughter pour out her frustration and fears, something that she won’t do with just anyone. Those moments of vulnerability gave her friends the opening to remind my daughter that God is in control and that her friends are there to help.

When we teach our kids to be good friends, when we teach them to push beyond the surface, we’re teaching them to love each other like God loves them. We’re teaching them to let God use them to reach other people.

I doubt any of those three kids yesterday was thinking about being “God with skin on” to my daughter. They were simply loving her through a rough time. But what they did yesterday is what I think Jesus had in mind when He told us “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

And I think we can all learn a lot from their example.

What I Want Most for My Kids

My older daughter got home at 11:30 last night. It was 12:15 before she got to bed. And it was a school night.

It’s a rare night that I let my daughter stay up past midnight on a school night. She was exhausted this morning, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

Winter Jam

This photo was taken by a friend of mine last night at Winter Jam — a huge Christian concert. That’s my daughter (the one with the long hair next to the guy in the Blackhawks cap). She’s in between two really good friends, and she’s got arms raised worshiping God together with them.

That picture sums up so much of what I want for my kids — to know and worship a great God and to have great friends who also know and worship that great God.

So much of our kids’ lives from middle school on is focused on goals. It’s about getting good grades, playing well in whatever sport they play, deciding where to go to college and what to do with their lives. And in that mix, relationships can get lost. Our kids can form surface relationships with their peers that never really get to the heart of what’s important in life.

Those three kids in that picture are busy. My daughter plays really competitive soccer. The guy on the left plays hockey at an elite level. The girl on the right is a talented ballerina. They commit hours and hours to schoolwork and activities. It would be easy for them to miss out on the gift of friendship with anyone outside their chosen sport or activity.

But these kids and the others on that row that you can’t see have learned that it’s important to have friends who understand not just who you are, but whose you are. They know that when the going gets tough, you need friends who have your back, who will pray for you, who will understand you.

That girl on the right doesn’t know much about soccer, but she knows my daughter. She knows how to make her laugh. She knows how to just be comfortable with her. She knows about my daughter’s heart.

That guy on the left may not play soccer, but he knows all about how difficult it is to play a sport at a high level. He knows how hard it is to be injured and how sometimes you just need a little bit of encouragement when you’ve had a bad practice. He also knows how to make my daughter laugh and sometimes roll her eyes.

There’s another girl just to the right who’s not in the picture that has been my daughter’s friend literally since birth. Even though they’ve changed and grown apart a bit, she still knows more about my daughter than just about anyone else. She knows when it’s OK to push and tease and when she should back off. She knows my daughters favorite things and her fears.

You see, I don’t really care if my daughter ever plays another soccer game. I’m not really concerned about what she’s going to do with her life when she grows up. All those things will take care of themselves in time.

What I am concerned about is that my daughter grows in her relationship with God and that she is surrounded by people who love her and are pursuing that same relationship. Because those are the lessons that are going to stick with her for the rest of her life. Those relationships she forms today — the ones that are based on a mutual love and passion for the things of God — are teaching her how to forge those relationships with others in the future.

And if there’s one thing I want for my kids, it’s that they are learning now how to create meaningful relationships in the future. I want them to have friendships that go beyond the surface and dive into the things that are important. Because grades and sports and plans for the future are important, but having a relationship with God and great friends to support you in that relationship are the most important.

Winter jam2

Grace and Love in a Lolaloopsy Cup

cookies

A friend of mine brought me a party on Thursday. She brought cookies, pink polka dot napkins, a Lolaloopsy cup with a striped straw (for the milk to go with my cookies), a princess tiara, and some Mardi Gras beads to dress me up.

She didn’t bring me a party because it was my birthday or a celebration of any kind. She brought them because I was at the end of my rope. She brought them because God knew I needed them. She brought them because she couldn’t fix the rest of my problems, but she could give me a party.

Last week was a rough week. I had an injured daughter, I hurt my fingers, I screwed up a work project, and my injured daughter got sick. To top it off, my rheumatoid arthritis decided to make its presence known in a whole new way.

I don’t write much about living with a chronic disease. There’s not much to tell. There are good days and bad days, and you simply learn to enjoy the good ones and soldier on through the bad ones. Except last week, I had reached my limit of soldiering on when the drug I take to control arthritis caused my skin to erupt in a nasty, scaly rash.

Living with a chronic illness day in, day out is tough. I was not a nice person last week. My kids asked me several times why I was so grumpy. I probably snapped at people I shouldn’t have and gave my husband less than he deserved. Luckily, my family and friends offered me grace. They even showed up with cookies.

And that’s what I want to talk about today, why I’m sharing this particular struggle when I don’t often share – grace. We could all use more of it because there are days when a friend or family member is simply not themselves. And we’re quick to judge. Instead of seeing through the mask to the hurt, we focus on how that person acted toward us. We make it about us, not them.

The truth is, though, that most of the time, it’s not about us. We can’t see behind the curtain into someone else’s life. We have no idea what’s going on behind that smiling face she shows to the world.

People look at me and see a relatively healthy person. Someone I’ve known for years told me the other day that she never knew I had arthritis. Because that’s not the face I present to the world.

The lesson, here, is not that everyone has an illness they’re dealing with, but everyone has something. Everyone hits a bump in the road sometime. And when they do, we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We need to look beyond the crankiness, beyond the frustration, beyond the strained smiling face to see the hurt behind them.

We need to offer grace. We need to offer kindness. We need to offer help. Because that’s what Jesus would do.

Jesus would be looking past the outward actions and standing on my doorstep with cookies and a Lolaloopsy cup for the milk. Because sometimes that’s what love and grace look like.

Who needs you to offer them grace today?

Moms Need Friends, Too

mom friend

The girls and I went to the arboretum the other day with some friends. We spent hours there walking around. The kids explored the stream bed, watched birds and climbed rocks. My friend and I had a couple of hours to catch up with each other.

This has been a whirlwind year. Between homeschooling, working and two kids in competitive sports, there’s been very little time for anything else — including friendship. As we walked through the arboretum the other day, I realized that I miss my friends. Little snippets of phone conversation or quick texts are no replacement for long talks and shared adventures.

There was so much more of that when my girls were little. We had time for play dates and afternoons spent hanging out with friends. Now, it seems there’s little time for lazy afternoons filled with shared laughter and conversation.

I came to the realization this weekend, though, that just because our lives have changed, it doesn’t mean our friendships have to fall by the wayside. We moms need friends. We need people we can call, text or email when the world is crashing down or the kids are driving us nuts. We need those people who can make us laugh in the middle of a crisis. We need those people who can give us perspective when all we can see is what’s right in front of us.

When life gets busy and it seems like it’s all we can do to keep all the balls we’re juggling in the air, we have to be intentional about not dropping the friendship ball. We need to put dates on the calendar for moments with friends. We need to be diligent about not letting too much time get away from us between times spent together.

We need to foster friendships not just for us. We need to foster them so our kids can see what healthy friendships look like. They need to watch us navigate the waters of friendship so that they can learn how to navigate their own friendships.

God didn’t intend for us to walk this path alone. He intended for us to be surrounded with people who can encourage us and offer words of wisdom. Those people are our friends. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” God knows the value of friendship, and we need to know it, too.

If you’ve let life get so busy that your friendships have taken a back seat, make a decision to change that. Decide today to be intentional about your friendships. Set aside some time to meet with a friend. Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Put a date on the calendar to have coffee with a friend. Your life will be richer for it and your kids will learn to be better friends by watching you.

What Our Kids Need to Know

Know

Because we’re homeschooling our younger daughter this year, I spend a lot of time focused on teaching her the things she needs to know to be successful in fifth grade. As I put together lessons and activities, I make sure to cover the things that she will need to know to move on to sixth grade.

As I put together those lessons, I’ve been thinking about the things that my kids need to know to be successful in life. Because as important as it is that my daughter be ready for sixth grade, it’s more important that she be ready for life. It’s more important that she be ready to fulfill her purpose in God’s plan. And that doesn’t just happen.

Our kids need us to teach them the things they need to know to be successful in life even more than they need us to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic. So, here’s what I think our kids need to know.

What Our Kids Need to Know

1. Our kids need to know that they are loved. They need to know that we love them and God loves them. There is nothing more important for them to know. God’s love and our love are the foundation for everything in this life. When things get tough, love is the thing that will see them through.

2. Our kids need to know that perseverance matters. Our natural inclination is to walk away from something when it’s difficult, but sometimes, life requires that we stick with it. Our kids need us to push them to persevere. They need to know that sticking with something even when it’s hard is worth it.

3. Our kids need to know they have a purpose. God designed each of us with a purpose in His plan. He gave us gifts and talents that fit that role. There is no greater sense of fulfillment than when we are living out God’s purpose for us.

4. Our kids need to know it’s OK to be different. We aren’t called to fit into this world. God called us to be set apart for Him. That means we’re going to act differently than those who don’t know Jesus. And that’s OK.

5. Our kids need to know how to stand up for what’s right. And they need to know how to do it in a loving manner. Standing firm is important when it comes to right and wrong. But standing firm in a respectful, loving way is what sets us apart from the rest of the world.

6. Our kids need to know how to be a good friend. Loyalty and kindness are undervalued qualities today, but they are still important to God. The only way our kids can learn to be a good friend to others is if we teach them and model it for them.

7. Our kids need to know how to admit they are wrong. We all want to be right, but none of us are right all the time. Our kids need to know how to graciously accept responsibility for a mistake. They need to be willing to admit when they are wrong and make amends if their mistake hurt someone else. “I’m sorry” is one of the most powerful phrases. Our kids need to know how to use it.

8. Our kids need to know how to keep money in perspective. Money is a valuable resource. We need to teach our kids to handle it well, but our kids need to know that money is simply a tool that allows us to further God’s kingdom. It should never be the driving force in our lives.

9. Our kids need to know how to put others first. Selflessness is not a natural inclination. It’s something that has to be taught.

10. Our kids need to know that it’s important to try new things. If we never ask our kids to step out in faith that they can do something new, then they will never learn to take that first step of faith when God asks them to do something they never expected.

Teaching our kids the information they need to be successful in school is important. But teaching them things they need to know to be successful in life should be the focus of our parenting.

Choosing Friends Wisely

FriendsMy older daughter’s birthday was June 1. We were out of town on her birthday, and she and her friends had conflicting schedules for most of June. So, last night, we finally had her birthday party — a sleepover. Since 6 last night, my house has been full of giggly 12-year-old girls.

As I watched these girls interact, I realized that for all the struggles my daughter has had with relationships this year, God has blessed her with these friends. The four girls who showed up at my house last night are girls who have my daughter’s back. They’re girls who appreciate her for who she is. They’re girls who love to laugh and who love God. And I can’t ask for more than that in friends for my daughter.

My daughter chose well when she picked these friends. God chose well when he put these girls together. You can see in their eyes that they enjoy each other’s company. You can hear in their laughter that they love to have fun. And because these girls sit at my table during the middle schools service at church, I can see that their hearts are turned toward God.

When our kids are choosing friends, the qualities these girls have are the ones we want our kids to look for. Whether it’s one really close friend or a small group of friends, we want our kids to choose friends wisely. We want them to look for other kids who are seeking to follow God. We want them to choose friends who will stand back-to-back against the enemy. We want them to find friends who will tell them the truth in love.

We want our kids to find friends who live out the words in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Friends who love each other, help each other and seek God together will help our kids through the tough times. They will be there for our kids. They will help keep our kids on the right path.

Start early to help your kids cultivate friendships with people who can do these things. Encourage your kids to think hard about the friends they choose.

Though I’m exhausted this morning from a 12-year-old sleepover, I’m also grateful that my daughter has been blessed with these girls in her life. I pray that your kids will be just as blessed in their own friendships.

5 Tips for Helping Kids Resolve Conflict

We’re navigating some tricky friendship waters around our house these days. My younger daughter is having trouble getting along with one of my older daughters good friends. These girls spend a lot of time together, so it’s important that they get along.

We’ve been letting the girls try to work things out themselves, but the results have been less than desirable. I’ve talked to my younger daughter about it numerous times. I’ve given her strategies for dealing with the situation. I’ve encouraged my older daughter to try to help both her friend and her sister to get along. None of that seems to be working.

We finally came to the conclusion that nothing is working because our daughters don’t know how to resolve conflict. They don’t have the tools in their toolbox to fix the problem. While we work on problem-solving and resolving conflict, we’ve never taught them how to sit down and constructively talk about how to solve the problem.

Our kids aren’t born with the ability to resolve conflict. They’re born selfish. We all are. Our first instinct is to protect our own interests. Our fall-back position is to look out for ourselves. We have to be taught to put others first. It’s a constant struggle to put aside our selfishness and view others’ interests as more important than our own.  Proverbs 18:1 says, “An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.” We want our kids to be good friends and to have sound judgment, which is why teaching them to solve conflict is so important.

Sometime soon, we’re going to sit my daughter and this friend down to talk together. We’re going to teach them how to respectfully and calmly resolve conflict. We’re going to mediate their dispute so that they can see each other’s point of view. When we do that, here are the things we’ll be hoping to teach them:

1. Use “I feel” statements, not “you” statements. Starting a sentence with “I feel,” puts all the focus on your own feelings and not on the other person’s actions. It’s less accusatory and simply a statement of fact. It doesn’t put the other person on the defensive right off the bat.

2. Everyone gets a chance to talk uninterrupted. The only way to get all the cards on the table is for everyone to get a chance to explain their position, their feelings and their ideas.

3. The other person is going to have some valid points. It’s a rare conflict where only one person is in the wrong. Usually, especially when it comes to kids, both have contributed to the problem.

4. The solution isn’t going to be perfect. The key to conflict resolution is compromise. Kids need to understand that compromise means that everyone has to give up something. No compromise is going to result in them getting everything they want.

5. Prayer is powerful. Whenever conflict arises, one good way to get it to end is to stop what you’re doing and pray. God wants to give you the answers. Even if it’s a conflict on the playground, taking just a second to pray before you open your mouth can make all the difference in the world.

The world is full of conflict so our kids need to learn to solve it. If we help them by showing them appropriate ways to deal with conflict now, we’re helping them live more peaceful lives as an adult.

Making New Friends

My girls spent most of their free time this week and weekend playing with the neighbors. It was a beautiful weekend here. They rode bikes, made a movie and played street hockey. While they had fun, there was some inevitable drama — disagreements and poorly chosen words.

I think there’s very little that causes drama in a child’s life like their friendships. And the start of the school year seems to exacerbate that. When the kids head back to school, there’s nearly always some kind of drama revolving around their friends. Whether it’s a friend who doesn’t want to hang out with them as much as they did last year or one of the girls is entering a new situation where she doesn’t know anyone, friendships can be difficult.

And making new friends is the hardest thing of all. My girls are really different when it comes to this. My oldest started a new school and joined a new soccer team this year, and it’s been tough. She doesn’t know everyone. Last night we were talking about how much she misses that. She’s also my kid who doesn’t make new friends easily. She’s quiet and a bit shy until you get to know her. She has a tendency to drop her eyes and mumble in new situations.

My younger daughter, however, has never met a stranger. Making new friends isn’t that hard for her. She’s gregarious and a natural-born leader. But even so, new situations can be tough. And meeting new people takes courage.

We want our kids to be able to walk into any situation and make a new friend. We want them to reach out to kids who also need a friend. We want them to be the kind of kids who make good friends. We want them to be the kind of friend found in Proverbs 17:17 who “loves at all times.” But how do we encourage that behavior? How do we help even our shy kids learn to make new friends?

Practice making friends. Role play with your kids before they go into a new situation. Ask them to show you what they would do to make a new friend. Talk about their reactions to new situations and people. Point out places where they can improve their approach to other people. Suggest ways that they can include others like inviting them to join a game or partnering with a new person for an activity. Give them questions to ask someone else in a new situation. This will help them to be ready when they meet someone knew.

Talk about the importance of body language. Crossed arms and downcast eyes aren’t inviting. They turn people off. Explain to your kids how their body language tells others whether they want to be friends or not.

Encourage your kids to seek out new people. Ask your kids to find one new person to talk with each day. Have a list of questions they can ask to get the conversation started. These could include: How old are you? Do you play any sports? What school do you go to?

Pray. New situations are intimidating, even for adults. Pray with and for your kids any time they are entering a new situation. Specifically pray that they would seek out new friends.

Making new friends isn’t easy. It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable and open to rejection. But we want our kids to learn to be comfortable in any situation, even ones where they don’t know anyone. To do that, we have to encourage them to be the ones to reach out to others and recognize the gift found in making new friends.

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.

Memory Monday: How Do You View Your Kids’ Friends? (1 Peter 4:8)

 

“I don’t know what to do,” sobbed my 11-year-old for at least the tenth time.

This is what soccer tryouts had reduced her to at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Tired and overwrought, she was being asked to make one of the biggest decisions of her short life. And the options were all good.

She had been offered a position on two teams. The first team was with a coach she loves and friends she’s played with for a few years, but it was playing a division or two below where she played last year. The second was on a team that won the division she played in last year with a coach and a program we had a heard good things about. There was no wrong choice to make — just a tough decision.

The decision wouldn’t have been difficult at all if it weren’t for a guy who puts his heart and soul into coaching these girls. He’s created an atmosphere where the girls know he cares about them as people first and soccer players second. He clearly views his interactions with these kids, not just as a job, but as a ministry. He’s the kind of guy I want as a role model in my daughter’s life and an example of the way I want to view my interactions with my kids and their friends.

We all have kids that cross our paths that are not our own. Our house is often filled with friends of my daughters. Some days, I’ll admit, they are just one more person for me to have to clean up after. I don’t view them as a ministry. I view them as more work and breathe a sigh of relief when they go home.

Yet, our kids and their friends are a huge mission field. We can create an atmosphere in our homes that welcomes them in and lets them see Christ at work. We never know when something we say or do in our homes will set an example for a child who doesn’t see or hear about Jesus at home. Those kids who come into our lives, whether they’re friends of our kids, members of a team we coach or part of a scout troop we lead, need to know we care. We have no idea what kind of home life many of these kids have. We may be the only people who show them any love.

God doesn’t put people in our path without a reason. And He tells us how to treat them. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” When we love those kids in our lives, we won’t grumble as much about the mess they make or the amount of food they consume. We will view our interactions with them as an opportunity to share God’s love — to be a light to them.

After two hours of alternating between sobs and discussion, my daughter chose to play on the new team. We will miss her old coach, but we are forever grateful to him for not only teaching her soccer skills but for taking an interest in who she is as as a person, too. Lucky for us, we don’t just call him coach; we get to call him friend, too, which means my daughter will still have an opportunity to be a part of his mission field.

Who are the kids in your life that are part of your mission field?

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.