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Honest First Impressions of Summer Vacation

We've reached an awkward stage in our household. You see, last week my kids finished their final days of school and turned the corner into summer vacation. Meanwhile, I'm teaching two classes and facing a looming deadline for an article I'm writing for work. Suffice to say, their expectations are clashing with my reality.

It's kind of like this:

My kids: Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Let's do fun things. FUN THINGS! All the time, perpetually, because we're on vacation and we're so excited! In fact, we're going to wake up before 7 so we can start our days of leisure early. Let's have friends over all the time! Can they stay for dinner? Can they sleep over? Let's go to a movie! The pool! An amusement park!

Me: It's not time for fun yet.

My kids, undeterred:  Let's eat Popsicles seven times a day. And go out for ice cream at night! Can you set up the Slip-and-Slide? How about S'mores? You just have to start a fire, that's all. You can start a fire now, right?

Me: I am neither mentally nor logistically prepared for what currently is happening to me. 

My kids: What about snow cones?

I'm not sure why I'm shocked by any of this. I visibly saw the end of the school year approaching. I crossed out days on the calendar that led to the block where, in my own handwriting, it read "Last Day of School." I observed tell-tale signs, like how their backpacks overflowed with the contents of their desks and piles of end-of-year papers. And yet, I'm shocked.

It's like my conscious mind recognized that summer vacation was about to happen, but my subconscious had suppressed what it's like when kids are so extraordinarily ever-present. But now that this awareness is resurfacing, I have two primary thoughts:

(1) In just a few short years, my kids won't be home 24/7 for eleven weeks straight. This is one of those "18 summers" before they head into college, step into their futures, and launch their young adult lives. I should treasure these moments. Hold them close. Take mental snapshots.

(2) Wait, what? These kids are going to be home 24/7? For eleven weeks straight? Jesus take the wheel.

Listen to the Right Voice

My husband and I will be speaking at our church this upcoming Sunday morning, so this past week we've been preparing and putting the final touches on our message. I've loved merging our talents and working together.

Meanwhile, this past week I've also had several encounters that have made me legitimately question my aptitude as a parent and a human, encounters that would make me question whether I'm the right person to be entrusted with a microphone and an audience for 30 minutes.

This morning as I was reviewing my message notes, I added this sentence in the margins:
Listen to what God is saying to you and about you, not what a critic is saying, even if that critic is yourself.
As soon as I wrote this, I remembered a painful and complex situation that I was involved in multiple years ago where a person I trusted denigrated my character and questioned my motives. My conscience had been clear about the situation, but the more I dwelt on the accusations (and, friends, I dwelt on them heavily), the more I wondered if they were true, if I really was the awful person who was being described.

After months of miserably grappling with the situation, I finally had an epiphany: If this person's accusations against me were wrong, it was going to be okay because God is my defender. The accusations wouldn't hold.  (Psalm 37:6 says "He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.")  But even if the accusations were accurate, it would still be okay because God was my forgiver. He would cleanse me, forgive me, and restore me. He's a God who specializes in making all things new, so even if they were legitimate, my flaws didn't have to be my story.

Such freedom!  When I am wrongfully accused, God defends! When I'm wrong and come to him repentantly, God forgives!

So today, even while sitting at my kitchen table reviewing our notes for Sunday morning, I was encouraged once again to listen to the right voice. Not the voices of my critics -- and not my inner accusatory voice when I'm my own worst critic. God is speaking something much different, much better, over me.

I love you. I forgive you when you confess your sins to me. I'm protecting you. I defend you. I'm your faithful helper and guide in these circumstances. I will never leave you or forsake you.

That's the right voice to listen to.

Do you have a kid? Do they have a phone? This is a resource for you.

Everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. Oddly, since Christine and I became acquainted through blogging, we've never met in person (yet). That doesn't dilute my opening statement -- everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. She's full of life and wildly encouraging. She's left comments on my blog that are so complimentary I've wanted to tattoo them on myself. 

In a nutshell, Chris Carter is for people -- when you read her writing (she publishes broadly and blogs at The Mom Cafe) or interact with her online, you feel like you have a personal cheerleader in life. In fact, the only thing I can find wrong with the woman is that she's an Ohio State fan. (Being that my home team is Penn State, that's a doozy, but Christine is so incredible I can even overlook her misguided college football allegiance.)

Last month Christine, released her second book titled Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World.  If you have a kid, and your kid has a phone, this is a resource you'll want.

Structured as a workbook, Follow Jesus invites teens to think about their online habits in light of eight distinct values: love, grace, humility, compassion, truth, wisdom, integrity, and faithfulness.  Each section provides practical tips (ex: "always pause and pray for God's guidance before you post any response to bad behavior you see online"), applicable memory verses, checklist questions that invite personal introspection, and action-oriented prompts that challenge readers to take concrete steps to ensure their online habits are safe, reflect their Christian values, and ultimately, give glory to God.

As a person who's grappled with my own online presence and habits -- and as a mother who's raising a young teen and rising tweens who are dipping their toes into the online world -- I found the checklist questions and action-oriented prompts to be most useful.  While I can envision teens using the workbooks personally or in the context of a youth group, I also imagine that parents will benefit from using the resource to prompt healthy discussions that go deeper than the default, "you've-been-on-your-phone-all-afternoon-get-off-of-it" comment, which hits more on the quantity of time our kids spend on devices, rather than the quality of the content they're viewing and interactions they're having.

Follow Jesus hits on those "quality" aspects of the online world -- areas like knowing how to respond kindly (or even walking away) when you encounter inflammatory comments, not using social media to boast, not linking self-worth with the number of likes you receive, learning how to tune into the needs of others as they share online, ferreting out truth in a crowded environment that easily disseminates lies, and interacting online in ways that preserve our personal integrity.

Daresay, these reminders are good for adults to read, too.

I'll be honest: I've felt skiddish and inept as I've mulled over how and when my kids should have access to the online world.  I'm not sure I've always made the right choices.  When should they have a phone? How long should they be permitted to be on their phone each day? How do we best monitor this largely private device?  I want to bubble-wrap my kids and protect them from the corners of the the online world that are trashy and unhealthy.  At the same time, I want them to be able to connect with their friends and have access to online resources and platforms that are productive and entertaining.

Therein lies the rub: as parents, we can't just hand over a device that lets a young person explore EVERYTHING -- good and bad, helpful and harmful, edifying and destructive -- without also arming them with guidance on how to best handle that device.  That's the goal of Follow Jesus: to provide a lifeline of wise biblical guidance so our teens can swim, not sink, and engage online in a healthy, thoughtful, and God-honoring fashion.

And THAT is something I can get behind.

Get your copy of Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World on Amazon. And while you're at it, visit Christine Carter to hear more of her wit and wisdom at The Mom Cafe!
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