Monday, November 24, 2014

Family-Centered, Church-Supported, Christ-Founded (A Family Life Model for Congregations)

Family Life Ministry, as I learned it, is a ministry that is centered on the family, supported by the Church, and founded on Christ. I'd like to share with you why I've found this ministry to be so important.

First, we need to determine what we mean by "family". The Merriam-Webster online dictionary has 11 different definitions with six sub-definitions. I'll share the five most relevant of those. Merriam-Webster says a family is "a group of people who are related to each other," "a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head," "a group of persons of common ancestry," "the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also:  any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family," or "spouse and children."

The type of family I will be referring to throughout this post is best defined as a collection of people related legally or biologically that live in a fallen world and are called by God to love and support each other by the power of the Holy Spirit, living within the boundaries of God’s laws.

According to LifeWay research (as cited by Christianity Today), 70% of young adults stop attending church in their youth. Two-thirds of that 70% do return, but that still leaves almost a quarter of all young adults raised in churches leaving and staying away. This number is too high.

Before pointing any fingers, it should be said that 77% of Christian families are doing something right. 47% of young adults that stop attending church return, and 30% never leave. The parents in these families, I propose, are placing a high value on faith, as numerous surveys have shown that parental example and guidance is the best way to ensure youth remain in church throughout their life.

According to a Swiss survey of parental effects on faith formation: "If father and mother are both regular churchgoers: 33 per cent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers with a further 41 per cent attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practising at all.”

The Association of Religious Data Archives reports that only one percent of fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds whose parents considered religion of little import were “highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.” Contrarily, 82% of children that had parents “who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations” were active in their faith as young adults.

Clearly, the best way to instill faith in young people is to instill it at home. No matter what churches, no matter how many programs congregations run, there is no substitute for parents modeling faith both in church and at home. Pew Research says that mothers spend 13.5 hours per week with their children, and fathers spend 7.3 hours per week with them. Most churches have a church service that lasts one hour and a Sunday school program that also lasts an hour—two hours per week to teach faith to these young people (maybe slightly higher for the year or two preceding Confirmation). Parents are spending three to six times more time with their children than churches do—doesn’t it follow, then, that parents should be spending more time than churches teaching the faith to their children?

Luther’s Small Catechism opens the Ten Commandments with “as the head of the family should teach them to his household.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says of the Law, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Ephesians 6:4 exhorts fathers, “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Both Scripture and Church tradition set the example for family-centered faith formation. Churches can train parents to teach their children, but they simply do not have enough time to drastically influence the faith formation of children and young adults. The responsibility must inevitably fall to parents, or that 23% of youth that stop attending church for good will rise until we have an entire generation of un-churched adults.

*All Scripture passages referenced are from the ESV Bible.*

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Parent Seminar 3 (Talking to Your Teen about Pornography and Masturbation)

My final parenting seminar at St. John Lutheran Church in Berlin, WI will be on Friday, December 5th, at 5:30 p.m. We will be discussing how to talk to your teen about pornography and masturbation.

As with the other two seminars, we will have a potluck before the seminar, beginning this time at 5:00, open to attendees and their families. I hope everyone who is able will come out and attend!

For this seminar, if you would like childcare, please call the church at least a week in advance at 920-361-9935. Blessings!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Friendship Mistakes (How to End a Harmful Relationship in a Loving Manner)

When I was eighteen, I was involved in two harmful friendships. We ended up in a cycle of mutual negative influence. I wanted desperately to impact these young women positively and to minister to them with the Gospel, but it was not the right in my life for me to do that.

The first young woman, who I will call Aurora, lived in my apartment complex. We went to school together and were in a couple of the same classes. I don’t remember how we began to develop a friendship—whether we started talking on the bus, walking back from the bus stop, or some other instance—but we did. Within a few months, I was inviting her to youth group with me, and she was inviting me to the secular afterschool program activities. We’d go to community events or spend time in my parents’ apartment (never in hers) and talk about mutual interests, school activities, and whatever else struck our fancy.

Although she was my friend, I didn’t approve of a lot of Aurora’s behaviors. She smoked, swore, and (if I am remembering and interpreting the signs correctly in retrospect) was a self-harmer. Her overall attitude toward life was negative, and when I spent time with her, I found myself being more negative as well. She also had friends that I did not consider positive influences (for the same reason that I later ended our relationship). Over time, I began to realize that our relationship was having a poor impact on my own attitude and behavior and that it needed to end.

The last time we ever spent any extended time together was pretty much a typical day in our friendship. We were hanging out at my parent’s apartment, talking. Then she got in contact with another friend—one of the previously mentioned friends that I considered negative influences—and invited him over to my parents’ apartment (without asking my thoughts on the matter). Before her friend arrived, she wanted to go buy more cigarettes, so she asked me to walk to the gas station with her. Not wanting to condone her smoking (and being upset with her choice to invite someone to my home without my input), I said I would not go. She said she’d be back in about an hour.

As soon as Aurora left to buy her cigarettes, I went to my mom and asked for her advice. I told her I needed to end the relationship and asked her how, but she didn’t have an answer, so I started looking for an easy way out by myself.
Earlier that day, I had received an invitation to go to another friend’s house (just down the street) that I had rejected in favor of spending the day with Aurora. I seized on that invitation as my “easy-out”. I told my mom that when Aurora came back, she should tell her I forgot she was coming back and went to another friend’s house. I ran down to the other friend and asked her to hide me while I avoided the other person, and we spent a couple hours playing games while I ignored my responsibility to Aurora as a friend and as a Christian.

Aurora confronted me later about my behavior, but I shrugged it off with noncommittal responses and tried to avoid the topic. Finally, she told me that if I was going to treat her like that, she didn’t want to spend time with me anymore. For the rest of the school year, we ignored each other when we passed at school, aside from the angry looks she would give me, looks that I undoubtedly deserved (and I deserved much worse). We haven’t spoken since graduation.

The second young woman (I’ll call her Jasmine) came into my life in the winter of my senior year. I’d been in the town for six months or so, and she was having difficulty getting connected after moving in halfway through her senior year. As with Aurora, Jasmine and I had some common interests which sparked our relationship. I started spending time with her both at school and away, going out for coffee (or the sugared, frozen beverages we substituted for coffee) and spending hours together talking. Jasmine and I were close; on our graduation day, I bought her a bouquet of yellow roses (yellow symbolizing friendship) because she once told me no one had ever bought her roses before. She hugged me, cried, and thanked me over and over again.

Unfortunately, our relationship was not always that positive and supporting. Jasmine struggled with her self-image, dealing with eating disorders. When she would compliment my appearance (which I quickly realized was a remark on my confidence, not my appearance), I would argue with her about how beautiful she was, insisting that she was prettier than me. I didn’t realize that her needs went much deeper than that. She needed to know her identity came from an outside source—from Christ—not to be assured of her identity as beautiful physically.

Jasmine had values that were different from my own. As a Christian, I believed sex should only be within the boundaries of marriage; on more than one occasion, she suggested (only half-jokingly) that she and I take a camping trip with two boys of our choice, in two separate tents, and spend the night doing whatever we wanted with them. I also believe that Christians should not get drunk, but on graduation night, she and I went out bar-hopping with the rest of the graduating class. I (despite the fact that my mom had told me only to drink when we were at Jasmine’s house for the night) had one drink while we were out (a clarification: drinking was legal for 18-year-olds in the country we lived), and she had a few. We had another friend (who had not been drinking) drive us back to her place that evening, where her mom served us strawberry champagne and other drinks. Several girls and a couple boys stayed the night at her house that evening. (While I slept in a different room from the boys, one of them was intoxicated. Were I in the same situation today, I would go home rather than remaining at a co-ed sleepover, and I would never approve of my daughter making the same choice—to stay—that I did that night.)

When I left for college, Jasmine and I did not keep in touch. She stayed in the same town we graduated in, while I left for the US. When I came back over a break, I hoped (selfishly) that we would not run into each other and I would not have to deal with the relationship which I knew was a negative influence. My hope was unfounded. Walking home from the coffee shop one day, I saw a familiar figure walking toward me. Hoping (stupidly) that she wouldn’t recognize me, I crossed the street. She crossed too, and when I was within hearing distance, she said, “Did you think I wouldn’t recognize you?”

Being the sinful human I am, I cheerfully lied. “No, I didn’t recognize you! I wasn’t really paying attention. I had my headphones in.” We stopped and caught up for a few minutes. I don’t remember what we talked about or how the conversation ended, but I’m sure that the insincerity in my friendliness was apparent and hurtful. We haven’t spoken in years, but we never had the clear-cut end to the relationship that we both needed.

For those of you (especially adolescents) that are involved in a friendship that is negatively impacting you—especially a relationship that is leading you to reject your faith—I have some guidelines for you on how to end that without being unnecessarily hurtful. I wish I had known these before I treated Jasmine and Aurora the way I did.
  1. Pray, read Scripture, and talk to others. If the relationship is in opposition to Scripture or is causing you to behave in a way that is contrary to God’s Word, you need to leave. Christian peers and mentors can also help you make the right decision; sometimes an outside opinion is what you need to see the relationship with an unbiased eye.
  2. Be honest with yourself and the other person about your needs. Kindly explain why you feel the relationship needs to end. Don’t hide or try to ignore them like I did. You need a clean break, and they need an honest answer about the relationship.
  3. Set boundaries for what the “end of the relationship” looks like. Will you never speak to each other, or is it ok to say hi when you pass on the street? Can you attend events together with mutual friends, or do you need a complete break from contact?
  4. Decide when and how, if ever, the relationship can be repaired, and communicate that to the other person.
  5. Listen, but remain strong in your convictions. Undoubtedly, the other person will have something to say about the end of the relationship—whether positive or negative. Affirm their feelings (acknowledge the hurt they may be feeling) but don’t let guilt over upsetting them force you to stay in the relationship.

If you are in a situation similar to mine, I hope this helps you make a better choice than I did. Because we live in a broken world, relationships will be hard, they will end, and the endings will be painful. No matter what, though, there is peace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, who heals all broken relationships—not necessarily during our time in this broken world, but in the Last Day, when we are restored to Him in perfect unity.
Since that time with Jasmine and Aurora, I have grown. I have seen that my actions toward them was sinful, I repented, and I have been forgiven by Christ. Because I lost contact with those two young women, I have not asked them for forgiveness—nor do I believe that attempting to reconnect with them would help heal the hurts I caused back then.

To Jasmine and Aurora, if you are reading this: I am so sorry for my behavior toward you. There is no excuse for the way I treated you. I certainly was not modeling the love of Christ. The only reason I can give for my actions is that I am a sinful human being, with every need for God’s grace. Though I did not show you God’s love, I pray that you would see His grace through the fact that He has forgiven me despite my numerous sins and shortcomings. And finally, I ask that you could someday find yourself able to forgive me, not because I deserve forgiveness, but because I need it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Suicide and Cutting in the Youth Culture

As you may know, self-harm is a big problem among youth. According to an article by Fox News, 1 in every 200 girls age 13 to 19 cut themselves regularly. 40% of self-harmers are males.
The CDC reports that about 157,000 youth aged 10 to 24 receive medical care each year for self-inflicted injuries. Suicide is an even bigger problem, being the third leading cause of death for people age 15 to 24 according to Fox, 10 to 24 according to the CDC. The CDC did a nationwide survey of 9th to 12th graders that found that 16% of students were seriously considering suicide, 13% had made a plan, and 8% had tried to suicide in the year before the survey. While Millennials may not be the generation with the highest rates of suicide—at this point, that would be the Baby Boomers—these numbers are too high.

Lost All Hope, a website for those considering suicide, reports that in 2012, over half of all suicides were by firearm, almost a quarter were by suffocation or hanging, 16.6% were by poisoning, and 6% were by fall, cutting or piercing, drowning, transportation, and fire or burning.

I couldn’t find anything online about why youth attempt suicide or cut, but Walt Mueller says in his book Youth Culture 101 that they do it because of developmental, familial, and societal factors, as well as feelings of inferiority, desire for attention, revenge, substance abuse, and sexual abuse. We clearly can’t name any one factor for suicide or cutting—or even two or three—because the reasons youth do these things are so varied depending on the individual.

Even though the reasons teens attempt suicide are varied, there are some common warning signs. These include loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable; extreme changes in personality, sleep patterns, energy levels, hygiene, school performance, appetite, and social behaviors; unusual moods or behaviors such as sadness, irritability, aggression, defiance, indifference, guilt or feeling worthless, anxiety, and panic; difficulty concentrating; substance abuse; and hallucinations or strange beliefs. Youth considering suicide may talk about it, have a preoccupation with death, make a suicide plan, and begin giving away personal possessions or putting their affairs in order. Gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide, and youth that have previously attempted suicide are at a greater risk of repeated attempts.

A new issue in the youth culture regarding suicide is social media. Some high profile youth suicides over the past few years have been related to cyber-bullying—using the internet to harass someone. Social media can also be used to publicize suicides or suicidal feelings, which may lead to a string of attempted suicides, as may have been the case of a Google+ video by an eighth grade boy in Zionsville, Indiana.

Hashtags, used on many social media websites, are also used to discuss suicide and self-harm, according to an article on Buzzfeed. Because some hashtags such as “suicide” are banned on some of these websites, youth create secret words or phrases to hide their posts—for example, using “sue” or “secretsociety123” for “suicide”. Many of these social media networks try to remain aware of these code words and prevent people from viewing the pages until they have seen a warning or message. For example, I went to Tumblr to search “sue”. Before the website would allow me to view related posts, a page came up with the message “Everything ok? If you or someone you know are experiencing any type of crisis, please know there are people who care about you and are here to help. Consider chatting confidentially with a volunteer trained in crisis intervention at, or anonymously with a trained active listener from 7 Cups of Tea. It might also be nice to fill your dash with inspirational and supportive posts from TWLOHA, Half of Us, the Lifeline, and Love Is Respect.” Then I had the option to go back or to view the search results. Some people on social media networks are attempting to rebrand hashtags such as these by tagging positive, inspirational, or supportive posts with them.

Individuals can help prevent cutting and suicide by knowing the warning signs, talking to the person about the concern, directly asking them if they are cutting or considering suicide, and telling a responsible party—whether a parent, healthcare professional, or other trusted adult. Society, as well, needs to be making an attempt to stop suicide and cutting among youth. We can do this by promoting awareness of the warning signs and ways to prevent it, de-stigmatizing mental health, and attempting to prevent the glorification of suicide, be it by a person with terminal illness or by a rich and famous individual.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Talking to Your Teen about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Hi, everyone! For those that weren't able to make it to the seminar on Sunday, I wanted to share the content I presented. First is a presentation on what sexual orientation and gender identity is. Below that PowerPoint you can find the definitions of words in the first slide after the title. The second PowerPoint is a presentation on how to talk to your teen about sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Asexual: Person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.
  • Bisexual: A person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women. This attraction does not have to be equally split between genders and there may be a preference for one gender over others.
  • Closeted (in the closet): a homosexual, bisexual, trans person or intersex person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or society
  • Coming out: the process by which one accepts one’s own, sexuality, gender identity, or status as an intersexed person OR the process by which one shares one’s sexuality, gender identity, or intersexed status with others
  • Gender: a person’s non-biological masculinity or femininity
  • Gender Confirming Surgery/Sex Reassignment Surgery: Medical surgeries used to modify one’s body to be more congruent with one’s gender identity.
  • Gender Dysphoria: the condition of feeling one's emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one's biological sex.
  • Homosexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex.
  • Intergender: A person whose gender identity is between genders or a combination of genders.
  • Intersexed person: Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns. Formerly called “hermaphrodite”
  • Lesbian: female-identified people attracted romantically, sexually, and/or emotionally to other female-identified people
  • LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQI: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and Intersexed
  • Pangendered: A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions
  • Pansexual: A person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender expressions.
  • Queer: embraces a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively- heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, intersex persons, the radical sex communities, and many others
  • Sex: A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies
  • Transgender: A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex. Sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

As always, please leave comments, questions, and feedback in the comments section! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!