A Parent’s Response to Jen Hatmaker

So, yesterday, Jen Hatmaker (an awesome writer, an awesome person and one of my “friends I’ve never met”) wrote this article on her blog – http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2014/05/30/on-parenting-teens-that-struggle.

In it, she raises some questions (near the bottom of her article but please read the whole thing.).  Questions that she, with relatively normal teens, can’t answer about teens that struggle.

In my personal life (my own family), my friends (adoptive friends literally scattered all over the world and my interactions with people involved with troubled kids professionally (social workers etc. – and yes, I’m talking about you, Billy, Jill, Sarah and Christine), I feel like I can take a pretty good effort at answering her questions.

So Jen, here goes…… (Jen’s questions are in bold)

How can we come along side you? 
That is a hard one because to truly come alongside a parent of a struggling teen, you have to have some knowledge of what it is like.   And unless you’ve been there, that’s hard to do.   But a couple of ideas:  

  • Don’t ask the glib, “How are you?” question unless you’re prepared to actually care and actually talk to us about how we are.   Instead, use a different greeting –  “Hi! Good to see you!”  
  • Especially if you are a youth group leader, teacher, grand parent, aunt, uncle or good friend, ask what would be appropriate.   Don’t assume you know what the needs of this teenager are because your teenager needed “that.”
  • Don’t offer glib, trite and easy Bible verse efforts to encourage us.   We know that God has a plan for everything and everyone, but we’re in the middle of a battle and that’s not the time to tell us that

Talk truthfully to us
If you want the parents of troubled teenagers to talk truthfully, then you need to  be ready with open arms and open ears to hear the truth.   Because the truth isn’t pretty.   The truth about struggles, the truth about the hole in the wall, the truth about the reason that we have or haven’t done this or that.    It’s not easy and it often runs totally opposite the thinking that many parents raised their children with.    As a dad of three biological children and two adopted children, I can tell you that many of the things that we have to do to parent troubled teens is 180 degrees.    As Jack Nicholson said in the movie, “A Few Good Men,”  “You want the truth?   You can’t handle the truth!”

If you want to  truly support the struggling parents in your midst, you need to be able to, you need to learn to handle the truth and to respond in a Christ like and supportive manner.

Ask for help
I’ve often said that the 1st World church does a wonderful job reaching out to those who need help when it’s a need you can see.   Hurricane relief, cancer treatments, grief over the death of a loved one, illness, we know how to help with that.

We, as the first world church, don’t know how help people who “look” normal.    We don’t know how to help those who struggle with trauma, with attachment, with social issues, with mental illness.   People who look normal from a distance but the struggle is all inside.

So if we, as parents, are going to ask for help, then we, as the church, need to know and understand how to help, how to support and how to respond in ways that are truly helpful.

Tell us how we can help.
That’s hard.   Sometimes, we don’t have the energy to tell you.    Some times we feel like no matter how hard we try, you wouldn’t understand.  

Sometimes we don’t know how you can help, because we’re hanging on to the knot on the end of the rope and all we have the energy for is to keep hanging on.

But, no matter what we tell you, no matter what happens, don’t judge, don’t look down on us for decisions we make.   An example of that – I’m an elder at my church.   My church has services both in the morning and at night.   When our older kids were at home, we went both morning and night religiously (pun intended).   Now with our adopted kids, we rarely attend the night service.   Why?    Because social interactions are hard for one of our kids in particular and because the added stress of a highly structured situation like a church service adds stress that we would pay for over the next few days.   Frankly, the added benefit of the evening service was outweighed by the stress it added to the first part of our week.

And the sad part is,  there are some Elders in our church who totally understand and totally get that.   And there are other of the fellow spiritual leaders of the church who,  through their comments, through remarks made in conversations at Elder’s meetings, are not happy with the fact that one of “them” is not attending both morning and evening services.   That type of judging is hurtful, unproductive and totally opposed to what Jesus would have them do.

Prayer – we need prayer, lots of it.   And tell us that we’re being prayed for.   My brother’s mother in law Facebooks me on a regular basis and just says something along the lines of “Tom, just wanted to know I love you  and your family and I’m praying for you as you deal with the turbulence that is going on.”

Do you have a friend who is struggling with their teens?  If you don’t have their mobile number, get it and every time you pray for them, text them a quick note that says,  “Hey, just wanted to let you know that I just talked to God about you and your struggles, hang in there.”  By the way,  my mobile number is (616) 292-7559.   Smile

Reach out in unexpected ways – but always ask first, “Does your family like pizza?  What night next week can I have pizza delivered to your house as a treat?”   “Can I take _______ out for ice cream some time next week?”   There are many days where even a 20 minute break is a huge thing.

Teach us to love well in the midst of the struggle.

I have told a couple of my kids, “I may not always like you, but I will always love you.”   

Make sure that your friends who are struggling with a troubled teen know that even if you don’t understand, even if you don’t know what to do, you love your friends and support them in their efforts.    The last thing a parent who is struggling needs is someone who doesn’t understand but then judges them for their decisions.

Receive grace

We all need that.   Large amounts of it.

Thank you, Jen, for bringing the subject to the forefront.  I love what you are and what you  do.    Keep on changing the world.


Bury it?

Ann Voskamp recently said something (one of many) that has resonated with me:

“You have to bury your fear in faith.   Otherwise you bury your talents.”

There is a lot in those two sentences – let’s “unpack” them for a few minutes:

“You have to…..”    Not you should, or you can or you might want to.   You have to.  That means that if you don’t, there will be consequences.

“Bury your fear.”   Not, if you have fear or if your fear is getting in the way, but a solid acknowledgement of the fact that fear is part of life.

“in faith.”   Not in alcohol, not in pleasure seeking opportunities, not in working to the point of exhaustion.   In faith.   The only way we can bury our fear is by saying, “God, I don’t know what’s happening and it scares me.”    Or “God, I know what’s happening and it scares me.”   Bring your fears to Jesus – He can handle them.

“Otherwise……”   If you don’t bring your fears to Jesus, you’ll face consequences.    What sort of consequences?

There are many possibilities, but the one that Ann brings up here is, “you bury your talents.”    Otherwise you’ll not live up to the potential that God has for you.   Otherwise you’ll live a life that doesn’t use the talents God has given you.  

The devil has made us all afraid.   He has planted the seed of doubt.   Moses doubted he was the right man for the job.   King David doubted, Peter denied Jesus because he was afraid.   We all have fears and it’s important to realize that but then also realize that God is way bigger than anything we’re afraid of.

God has big plans for all of us.    Probably way bigger plans than any of us ever thought or planned.   Bury your fears in faith in Him and watch what God can use your talents to accomplish.

Living Life as a Conduit

Michael is a friend of mine who flies for MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) in Haiti.   He sent this out to his supporters and it spoke to me.   I hope it does to you as well.   Reprinted in it’s entirety with his permission.

Conduit: A pipe or channel for conveying…

As the passengers stepped off the plane, one of them shook my hand, leaving me with a tip.  There were two pilots flying to Pignon, Haiti that day, so he told me to split it with the other pilot.  “Take your wives out for a nice dinner.”  “This is great,” I thought.  Karen and I could really use a nice meal, and I knew just where I would take her.  I even thought about ditching the kids and going all romantic!

On the way back to home base, the other pilot and I used the air to air frequency to chat.  Both of us were grateful…and even more so when I actually looked in my pocket at what he had handed me.  $100!  WOW.  That’s huge.  I really could take Karen out!  Then I had this thought:  “Our wives don’t need a night out. There are bigger needs”  I told the other pilot that instead of splitting it evenly between us, let’s share it with our national staff.  he eagerly agreed.

You see, our national staff take care of us.  They load and fuel the planes, weigh the passengers, field phone calls, and make sure we are where we’re supposed to be.  They’re really the backbone of the whole operation.  The pilots are just the face the passengers see.

When I arrived back to base, I had our office manager make change for me.  As it turns out, we have eight haitian staff.  Each of them were thrilled to receive this gift and expressed their gratitude.  Myself, a fellow pilot, and our national staff each had an extra $10 in their pockets.  That makes for a good day and  I thought that was the end of it.  But that wasn’t all.

As I was walking out to go home, I stopped by our office to check flights for the following day.  That’s when Dieucon stopped me.  His wife had just had a baby three days earlier and he had to share this: “They just called and asked me to pick up medicine for our baby on the way home.  That money will pay for it.”  Awesome!

Yes, a nice romantic dinner out with my wife would be nice.  And we’re probably overdue for one considering I can’t remember the last one we had.  That said, Karen was thrilled when I shared this story with her.  Somehow realizing you are part of something far greater than yourself outweighs your “needs” for things like a romantic dinner.

It is so much fun being a conduit!  Thanks for being part of our ministry through MAF in Haiti!

The Broyles Family.

P.S. If you haven’t ridden along with me on a flight yet, Click here to check out our latest flying video:


“This Mess Is So Big” Dr. Seuss and 3rd World Children

In the last week in Haiti, there have been 4 incidents of horrific violence that have impacted friends of mine.   While they are physically unharmed, they have lost friends and they have seen and felt things that are so big and so ugly that it is truly heartbreaking.

You can read her recounting of one of the stories at http://www.haitifoundationagainstpoverty.blogspot.com/2014/05/we-cannot-unsee.html.   Warning – make sure you read her disclaimer at the top of the post.

Two other of my friends are currently in Haiti.   They are training mental health professionals (Haitians) on the impacts of trauma on children and the long term destruction (her word, not mine, but I agree) of the lives of children and its impact on the future of Haiti.   Sobering to say the least, heart wrenching to more accurately describe it.

You can read her “Short Sermon” at http://sahzu.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/a-short-sermon/.

So, if you read both of those posts, you’ll know a good part of the reason that I was up until after 1:00 this morning.  Heavy, heavy stuff.

This morning, as I’m driving back from bringing my daughter to school, this phrase from “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss popped into my mind:

“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot pick it up.
There is no way at all!”

― Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

No, I’m not suggesting giving up.    God doesn’t give up on us, so we don’t give up on fellow man, especially on the vulnerable women and children who are the ones most in need (Read Gary Haugen’s The Locust Effect – it will scare you).

Instead, I’m suggesting, proposing that we take an additional approach to fighting this battle.

Continue with the physical aid that is being offered to those who are in need of help.   But ramp it up on the spiritual side.

Acknowledge more openly that we are fighting the devil and fight back with a concerted effort at more and more focused prayer on behalf of those who are being impacted by poverty, by disease, by violence and by the devil’s efforts to make it harder for the good to triumph in this world.

What is this prayer effort going to look like?    Frankly, I don’t know.

I just know that God says that He will win the war but He wants us to be his prayer warriors.

If you have ideas or want to be part of whatever “it” might be, leave a note in the comments or e-mail me at thomas.vanderwell@gmail.com.

This mess is so big that we can’t pick it up all by our selves.

But I know someone who can and will.   The question is when and how.


A Lump Of Clay

So, as I’m reading through Richard Stearns book, “He Walks Among Us,” I came to a section about Jeremiah 18 and a potter and his lump of clay.

Jeremiah 18 says:

“So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.

Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?”

Two things that hit me about this passage on a Monday morning……

God never says the clay isn’t useful, but He does say, “I’ve got different plans for you.”    Why does He have different plans?   We don’t know, we aren’t God.   But He does.   Our job isn’t to question why, but to spend our times discerning God’s plan and attempting to mold our lives to be part of that plan in the way that He wants us to.

Starting over – whether your last set of “plans” worked well, didn’t work at all, worked well but were changed by someone else, God can give us unlimited “do overs.”    We can start and become something different, be used differently, be leading differently, be helping differently, be caring differently – if that’s what God wants us to do.

As I’m writing this, I’m at the beginning of that “start over” phase.   My time at the orphanage is done, but my concern for the kids in Haiti is not.   I’ve had a good number of people ask me, “So what’s next?”  or “what would you like to do next?”  

My answer – “I don’t know.   But I know Who does know.”  

And until He shows me more than one step at a time, if He ever shows me more than one step at a time, I’ll be able to see the plan and get closer towards being that finished lump of clay.

Pray with me today that we’d all be open to what ever sort of purposes God wants us to be open to.