Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Parenting Secret

We drove to the church this evening in the Big Red Suburban, the vehicle that once was a necessity for us to get anywhere we wanted to go. Now, with two kids away at college and four of them with driver's licenses, it's simply an optional vehicle.

That, in itself, gives me pause.

We drove and talked, Sydni, Daniel, David and I. We talked about this community being our home; we've lived here longer than we've ever lived anywhere, and we bounced that around a bit. We commented on the fact that our neighbor April just turned six years old, and that we remember her mom's pregnancy. We watched (not literally, but you know what I mean) as she came into the world, and now she's in school and growing up and before you know it, she'll be graduating. And she'll be going through what we experienced this evening.

David, leading. And by leading, I mean dancing.

Two milestones at church tonight; the first being David's "graduation" from children's ministry up to the youth group. It's a slow transition into summer activities and then full blown transition next fall. The children's ministry team said goodbye this evening. It was a revelation for me in some ways, as I rarely get to see my son in that environment. He's a leader; a dancer and singer for worship songs, very much at home in their space. He's also very comfortable with the upcoming move into seventh grade, where he probably won't stand six inches taller than everybody else in the room. We watched a slide show and listened to some inspiring words and applauded as they received certificates of achievement.

I got to be a mom, and simply sit and watch. And beam. And be proud, as my youngest steps up a level.

And then we moved downstairs for Senior Night, where the youth ministry leaders honored and celebrated the students who graduate this year.

The seniors.
We heard from adults who have been part of our kids' lives in ways that we were not. That's a good thing, by the way; the influence of significant adults other than parents is not to be underestimated. They are able to experience things and interact with our students in ways that will never be opened to us. Sydni's small group leader has been with her since she began seventh grade. Mandy has walked with my daughter as she has skipped, slipped, stumbled, sung, acted, laughed, cried, crawled and now gracefully walks into adulthood. They share a bond that is fundamentally based on spiritual truth, and the impact of Mandy's life on our family will probably never be fully measured.

Over and over, we heard words expressing the fact that being part of this church through student ministry had changed lives; not only those of the students, but of their families as well. And lest you tune out and think, "Oh, that's just some religious, churchy, Jesus stuff. Not for me. Thanks, but no thanks...", let me encourage you to reconsider.

At our core, all of us want to belong; we want to be part of something larger than ourselves. We long for acceptance. We hope for friendships and people who will love us as we are. Nowhere is that more prevalent - and more important - than in the lives of adolescents. Relationships matter.

At its core, Christian faith is about relationship. Doctrine can be somewhat complex; we can trip over tangled interpretation of scripture, be distracted by tradition and translation. But fundamentally, following Jesus is a journey of relationship, a movement towards acceptance, authentic and unconditional love, redemption, restoration and grace. Relationships with one another are crucial to spiritual health. 

That's why student ministry matters. 

That's why we do small groups. That's why adults like Mandy and Angie and Aimee and Jackie and Andy invest their time and resources in being available to students. 

I've been around small group at our house when their was nothing more spiritual to the discussion that a feeble prayer thrown out begging help with schoolwork. But that same group learned to trust one another, learned what it means to be connected with other people, learned what it means to have an adult in their life that cares enough to show up - for plays, hockey games, soccer matches and lunch dates. They learn what it means to invest in other people, meeting consistently, week after week, year after year....and now they graduate and move on and look back, knowing that they were changed. And that somebody cared, all along the way. And that changes all of us.

When it comes to parenting, I feel blessed indeed. My five children are awesome. They're not perfect, but they're headed in good directions. I'm proud of all of them. I enjoy them and I'm grateful for the privilege of being their mom. They're good kids; they've got a great dad and two step-parents that adore them. But I'll let you in on a little secret, the best parenting decision I think I ever made for my kids. The reason I think they turned out so well.

I took them to church. Consistently. 


They had a church home.

And by a church home, I mean they did small group, mission trips, FOCUS, served and gave back whenever possible (Power Jam, Greeting, Worship, etc.) and went to service. Because it is simply "what we do", nobody argues or whines about it. We go to church. It's what we do.

It helps that they happen to love going to church.

Parents - if you ever wondered whether or not it would be a good thing for you to have your kids involved in church, let me just say this about that:

Yes. It would.


My kids would not be the people they are today without the influence of the people they know through our church. And I don't mean this is some sort of religious, join-our-team-'cause-we're-the-best-church-in-town way. And I don't mean it because I work at a church and think you should come to it.

I mean it because they are loved, and they learned to love. And by loved, I mean not only God, but that whole "your neighbor as yourself" thing. They're better people, and it's the best thing I've ever done for my kids.

I encourage you to do the same.

Syd and her two small group leaders.

Mandy and Syd.

Getting ready for the NEXT one...Daniel and one of his biggest cheerleaders, his grandma!

Thanks to Angie Frame and Mandy James and the other adults who led small groups, led (and fed!) FOCUS) drove and chaperoned on countless mission trips, youth activities and invested themselves in the lives of the Brawley girls. I thank God for you, every time I remember you. What you do matters. My kids are living proof.

3 comments:

MandyJ said...

I thought I'd cried enough tonight. (That doesn't include the tissues I went through writing for tonight.) Thank you for sharing your kids, for trusting us, for knowing we don't always get it right but still letting us in. And thanks for offering a home. I've spent a lot of Wednesdays in your living room (wherever that might be). Love you. Love Sydni. Love your kids.

Brandee Shafer said...

You're a great mom, and I believe you. Church is important for our children. Sometimes I feel it more than others. I really felt it when Cade tested for his Black Belt and both Pastor David and his Sun school teacher Paul showed up. I feel it through Cade's choir experience. I feel it when my little girls walk into the fellowship hall and yell their Sun school teacher's (Pastor David's wife's) name. They're great w/ my leaving them. Clementine teaches me songs I don't know. I love that.

Jim Freeman said...

Very well said Beth! I'm also thankful we made a priority of taking our kids to church beginning at a young age. I can't say enough good things about the youth ministry at PCC. I'm glad you singled out Mandy. She's had a huge influence in the spiritual life of both of my kids. I know it must be very difficult for her to teach all day for a living and then volunteer to minister to a room full of teenagers once a week in her spare time. I've seen firsthand the look of joy on her face as she interacts with these teenagers. They really do trust and confide in Mandy in ways they would never do with us parents. She's one of God's wonderful gifts to PCC and I’m so very grateful for all her hard work through the years.