I Want You to Talk to Your Kid about My Kid – Guest Blog Post by Dawn Ratzlaff

Advocate: “a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc.; a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor.”

I have great respect for moms and dads who are advocates for their children. It’s among their most important roles. My friend, Dawn, is that type of parent.

Dawn blogs about “a look inside life with a child on the spectrum” at “A Fly on the Wall.” I’ve known Dawn, her husband, Jon, and their son Enoch for several years. I was glad to meet their younger sons a few weeks ago.

Dawn recently blogged vulnerably about what she wishes other children knew about autism so they could better relate to their son. In honor of moms and their commitment to their children, I’m posting her blog here. I’m also posting it because I agree that we could all benefit from better understanding autism from a mom’s perspective. I hope her passion and information inspires you to sit down and talk with your children.

I Want You to Talk to Your Kid about My Kid – by Dawn Ratzlaff

A couple of months ago, a little girl at church asked me, “Is Enoch a baby?”

“No… He’s six years old!”

Then why does he wear diapers?”

“Well, Enoch hasn’t learned how to use the potty yet.”

“Why?”

“Enoch has something called autism. Because of that, his brain works a little different from yours. So, he hasn’t learned how to use the potty yet. Or talk. But hopefully he will someday.”

“Ok!”

The interaction was short, and my answer seemed to be all she needed in the moment. But, I thought to myself, “They’re starting to notice that he’s different.” 

I wondered if when she went home if she would ask her parents about Enoch. What would they say? Do they know Enoch has autism? Do they understand what autism is? How can they explain my child’s differences to their typically developing child?

Yesterday, we went to the museum. While we were there, a little boy asked Enoch to play with him in the sandbox.

He said, “Do you want to play with me?”

Enoch said, “Yes!”

“Great! Start getting sand.”

Blank stare. “Otay!” (Okay)

“Okay, now you need to do this….” “Why aren’t you talking?” “Why are you talking like that?” “No, use your REAL voice.” “I don’t understand you….”

Enoch just smiled and continued trying to play with the little boy, and the little boy kind of played with Enoch, but he seemed to lose some interest when he realized Enoch was different.

I wanted to step in. I wanted to talk for him. I wanted to tell the little boy that Enoch didn’t have many words, but that he understood everything. Instead, I decided to sit back and observe. We weren’t going to see this little boy again.

The little boy was with a sister, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. What would they say when we left? What did the grandparents think? What do they know about autism? Can they tell he has autism? How will they explain my child to their grandchild?

You may be reading this, and you don’t know my child. But, the chances are you know a child (or an adult) with autism.

The current statistics state that 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. For boys, the prevalence is higher with 1 in 42 boys on the autism spectrum.

That many.

That is a LOT of children.

Unfortunately, the statistics on adults on the spectrum are not as clear because many went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as children.

Yet, despite the prevalence, people who don’t live with it don’t understand it.

Even 2 years after Enoch was diagnosed, a close family member asked me, “But, isn’t autism a psychological problem?”

NO… 

Autism is a NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER.

NOT A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM. 

(For the record, I was hurt that after 2 years, this family member had not done any research to educate themselves about my child. Why didn’t they ask questions before? It wasn’t that the question was wrong, it was the perceived notion that they did not care enough to learn.) 

It makes me think: “if a family member of a child with autism cannot learn about the disorder, why would anyone else?”

So, here’s a little bit about autism:

Autism is a neurological disorder. Enoch’s brain works differently. He perceives things differently. Because of this, some situations are overwhelming for him and he may react in a way that does not seem typical.

Autism is a spectrum. I once read, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” That statement is very true. Over the past several years, I have been able to build relationships with many families who have kiddos on the spectrum, and they are ALL DIFFERENT. While some children are able to talk well, others like Enoch, have very few words. While some may be perceived as anti-social, Enoch is very friendly. He desires so much to have friends.

However, there are things that pretty much everyone on the spectrum has in common (there do have to be guidelines to diagnose it after all).

If a child has not met developmental milestones at the usual time, this is a big red flag. Typically all skills will be delayed including fine motor, gross motor and oral motor. Enoch did not walk until he was 22 months old. At 6.5, he is starting to approximate words. He struggles greatly with fine motor skills. He is still no where close to being potty trained. (I have been changing diapers/ pull ups for 6.5 years straight with no end in sight.) He did not learn to jump until he was 5.5.

These delays are NOT caused by bad parenting. Please do not think poorly of a parent if their child is on the spectrum. They have been through a lot. They have had feelings of guilt. They have questioned if it is their fault. It isn’t. They love their child and they work SO hard to help their child on a daily basis. They take their children to therapy. They take their children to doctor’s appointments. They do not have much time alone because they are constantly alert in watching after their child. At this point, we don’t know WHAT causes autism. Science points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In Enoch’s case, I truly believe autism is something he was born with. 

Communication struggles are highly prevalent in autism. While some can talk, they struggle with connecting with others. They may not speak unless prompted to do so. Enoch’s main method of communication is American Sign Language (ASL). He is also learning to use an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device in the form of an iPad app. You may see a child on an iPad and think poorly of the parents. But, that may be that child’s means of communicating. And both sign language and AAC do not hinder communication. They enhance it! Enoch is now starting to approximate words, and I attribute much of that to our work with ASL and AAC.

This does not mean that a child on the spectrum is not smart. Enoch is VERY smart. Despite not being able to talk, he is word smart. He can spell. He can read. He enjoys math and science. He is on a typical Kindergarten level in a majority of his subject areas. His biggest delay academically is in writing (because of poor fine motor skills).

Many people on the spectrum struggle with gastrointestinal issues. When Enoch was an infant, he would have a bowel movement once a week. I remember thinking that was so strange. I asked our pediatrician about it, and he said, “It must be Enoch’s normal.” For the past several years now, we have visited a gastroenterologist for both chronic diarrhea and chronic constipation. There aren’t really many answers for this link, but there is a lot of research in the past few years about the connection between the gut and the brain.

Many children on the spectrum are picky eaters. Enoch is one of them. I can quickly make a list of the limited foods he will eat, and it is getting worse. When we visited with a nutritionist about a year a half ago, and I listed what he will eat she said, “Yep! That sounds about like what all the kiddos on the spectrum that see me will eat.” She was however surprised by his love of hummus and bananas.

Social situations and highly stimulating situations can be overwhelming. Again, those on the autism spectrum perceive their surroundings differently from those who are neurotypical. Enoch tends to have what you might consider a meltdown in some of these situations. For him, haircuts are the absolute worst. Because of that, his hair was very long for a long time. This was much more involved than a child who did not want a haircut. As parents, we would tire of the constant comments. “He needs a haircut.” “He looks like a girl.” “Why don’t you cut his hair?”

Many on the spectrum are drawn to water. (And do not understand the danger associated with it.) This includes Enoch. He is extremely drawn to water. Extremely. I will turn down invitations to anything with a pool or close to a body of water or any kind because the thought of it brings me close to a panic attack (this is NOT an exaggeration). We cannot visit certain family members houses because they have a pool. Even if he had swim lessons (which we will do at some point), because of his poor motor skills, he would not be able to swim at this time. He just learned how to blow. Sort of.

Drowning is among the leading cause of death of individuals with autism.” For more information on safety concerns associated with autism please visit: http://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/

Children on the spectrum often experience sleep disturbances. Enoch has been an early riser as long as I can remember. He seems to be able to function on much less sleep than I have ever been able to. Most mornings, he is awake between 4:00 and 5:00. Sometimes, I hear him before that and need to go in his room to turn out his light, tell him to stop playing and try to get more sleep. At the recommendation of our pediatrician, we lock his door from the outside to avoid potential safety issues. However, we can hear him playing in his room, LOUDLY, so the rest of us don’t get much sleep either. Lately, he is reading to himself, which I love. Who would have thought he would become such a bookworm? Not me. 

All this said, maybe your child knows another child on the spectrum. They know this other child is different. They don’t understand why this child is different. YOU may even look at this child and think they are “weird”. You may be concerned by their behavior because you don’t understand it yourself. I think it is important that children understand now, so that when they are older they learn to be compassionate and not mean when they encounter someone who is different from them.

(And I think this point goes along with ALL differences, but that’s a whole different blog post, and something I know less about.)

A few suggestions:

  1. Talk to the parent. Talk to me. Ask questions. There are not wrong questions. Most parents of children on the spectrum are open books. We want to share with you about our children. We want you to understand.
  2. Schedule a playdate. Let your kid spend some time with the child in a different setting. Perhaps they have only seen how they act at school or church. Sometimes those settings can be overwhelming. Be aware that the child’s parents may rather you come to their home (because their child is more comfortable there). Do it. Don’t take offense, it isn’t because we aren’t interested in coming to your home.
  3. Ask your kid questions. They may have more answers than they know. Ask them: “Why do you think _________ is different?” “Is there anything that ___________ likes to do that you like to do?” ” How does it make you feel when _______________ does that?”
  4. Remind your child that we are ALL different. The one thing we all have in common is that we were all made by a loving God IN HIS IMAGE. God made Enoch. When God made Enoch, He did not make a mistake.

I want you to talk to your kid about my kid.

This is written by Dawn Ratzlaff. She and her husband, Jon, live in Dallas, TX, with their 3 sons. Jon is a minister of music at a local church, and Dawn stays home with the kids. Enoch, their oldest, is 6.5, and has moderate- severe autism. Their twins, Malachi and Titus are (almost) 2. The 3 of them are a handful, and Dawn can’t imagine her life any other way. She enjoys cooking, baking, singing, playing the piano, writing, and drinking (lots of) coffee. If you want to follow her blog, you’ll find it here.

Unity Facilitates Respect And Security

I showed up to the meeting about 10 minutes before it was scheduled to begin. I looked around to see if my friends were there and they hadn’t arrived yet. So, as I typically do, I chose a chair on the center aisle and this time I chose the very back row.

My friends arrived within a few minutes and we visited while we waited for the meeting to begin. We were there to hear our chiropractor and his new colleagues talk about a treatment that might help heal our backs.

I was optimistic and positive before Dr. Gideon spoke because I’ve come to trust him. Yet, I knew listening for truths relevant to my situation was essential.

After Dr. Gideon welcomed everyone in his typically friendly way, he introduced one of his colleagues. Within a matter of minutes, I realized I was totally relaxed and definitely intentional about my listening. This man was engaging and enthusiastic. He was high energy, spoke fast, used humor, and asked us to answer questions. When he said he was glad we were there to learn, it was easy to think he meant it. He was clearly knowledgeable, but didn’t share to impress us. His motivation was clearly to inform and help us.

He transitioned to the next part of the meeting by introducing another business partner who was personal, vulnerable, energetic, and authentic. She was just as knowledgeable and engaging, but she expressed her enthusiasm in quieter ways. I was glad. I saw that the colleagues/speakers wouldn’t be performing and there wasn’t a mold they had poured them into. That would be disrespectful.

After sharing her testimony about the effects of the treatment being discussed, this partner introduced video testimonies and then the next doctor. Like those before her, she was gracious when introducing him as an important member of the team.

It was now his turn to explain why he was totally on board with the treatment being discussed. He reiterated what my chiropractor opened the meeting with – they each believe that the God Who created us is the God Who heals us.

It was easy for me to agree with what we were being taught. The information was clearly explained. Each speaker backed themselves up with data and patient testimonials. But my agreement was due to more than that.

It was the unity among the colleagues. It was compelling. The respect they showed all of us and each other was refreshing. Their public admission that they share the same values and passions made it easy for me to listen and learn. I believed I knew my chiropractor well enough to expect him to align only with fellow believers in Christ. But to see it happening was deeply encouraging. It put me at peace. It was security in them. It was security between them. Security was in the place, and it mattered.

Conversations Count: Talking Never Goes Out of Style

Were you one of the many who read last week’s blogs here and here? Thanks so much! I loved sharing with you that play is valuable. We must never forget it. Playing seems old-fashioned to many, but it will always be valuable. Always!

Did you catch something else that I included in both blogs? Interactions between children and parents have the same positive effects as play. Talking matters. It, too, should never be out of style. Conversations count.

When reading recently about young children’s television viewing habits and use of games and apps for learning, I was struck by these truths: The chief factor that helps young children learn from commercial media and educational games/apps is parents watching with them and reteaching the content. When parents engage with their children when they’re using technology, the children reap the most benefit from what they view and what they do.

Parents matter. Be involved. Listen. Talk. Point to the pictures. Laugh. Reread. Explain.

Like me, do you see many young children (sometimes very young!) using technology on their own? Little children with a parent’s old phone, tapping and swiping and even smiling? None of this guarantees learning will last. They may know their ABC’s in that moment or that a cat makes a certain sound, but it doesn’t mean any of that will last.

I’m concerned that parents may rely on these encounters and not sit with their children to learn the basics in other ways. They may have a rude awakening in the future.

As I wrote last week, taking breaks from technology regularly for other kinds of play experiences is very valuable. When you do let your children use technology, use it together and talk with them. Interact with them when you do things together. Repeat. Use it together and talk with them. Interact with them when you do things together. Repeat.

Take a Tech Break! Play, Talk, and Interact Instead

78% of the parents surveyed in a new study by Barna Research, in cooperation with Andy Crouch, indicated raising their kids today is more complicated than when their parents raised them. Technology was the number one reason they listed. Do you agree?

Let me share a probable reason and some suggestions to help.

The use of technology delays the development of the brain’s executive functioning. This includes impulse control and the ability to self-regulate. That’s why children are more likely to just do what they want, without thinking. And, they have a hard time managing themselves. Planning is hard and they may not be able to judge if they’ve done a good job on a task.

Certainly, this makes parenting harder because the kids aren’t as obedient or as successful.

What can we do? I’ve got great news!

Both impulse control and self-regulating are best learned and taught through play (non-digital, of course!) and by interacting with parents.

Play and talk with your kids. Interact with them when you do things together. Take breaks from technology regularly. Repeat. Play and talk with your kids. Interact with them when you do things together. Take breaks from technology regularly. Repeat. Play and talk with your kids. Interact with them when you do things together. Take breaks from technology regularly. Repeat.

Not all difficult situations need difficult solutions. Praise God!

Contentment & Happiness by Steve Baker

Today I’m posting a devotional from the book Steve Baker wrote. As a dad, grandfather, and Christian school administrator, he wrote the devotionals in O Taste and See to encourage parents and children to learn from God’s Word together. Each is related to one or more of the core needs I teach about often and that are taught in my book, Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness. He has seen their importance and wanted devotionals as another way of helping children meet the needs in healthy ways.

I chose to post a devotional about contentment because I’m so concerned with the lack of contentment that I see in children and adults. Steve wrote this about Achan: “He had to have what he wanted now. He could not be content to wait.” Does that remind you of anyone you know.

After you read this, I encourage you to share it with your children.

Contentment & Happiness by Steve Baker

CONTENTMENT – the state of being happy regardless of situations and satisfied; having no need of more.

“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” 1 Timothy 6:8

Scripture Text: Joshua 7

Scripture tells us, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him,” Psalm 62:5. We are encouraged to look to God for our expectations and desires to be fulfilled. God made us with needs and wants. We all want to feel loved and appreciated. We need encouragement and help at times. When we look to other things or people to satisfy these needs, we leave God out of our life. This causes a discomfort, confusion, and sometimes disaster. God has a plan for our growth and maturity. If we truly trust Him, we must be content that His plan and the provision that He gives along the way are correct.

Joshua 7 tells the story of a man who doubted God’s provision and took matters into his own hands. He was not content to wait on God’s plan. The man’s name is Achan and his discontentment was costly.

God’s plan was simple: Trust Me and honor Me first and I will provide for you and protect you. Forty years before this story took place God had delivered His people, Israel, from Egypt. Achan and his family followed Moses, and then Joshua through the wilderness until God was ready to bring them into the land He had promised them. God’s people had seen God’s mighty hand of protection and provision many times. God provided food in the desert, water from a rock, and protection from enemies. Now the people entered the land and won the first battle over the great city of Jericho. After having seen all these events, you would think that Achan would have no doubt that God was worth trusting.

God commanded the people that all the spoils (valuables) from the battle of Jericho were to be considered holy. Everything was to be gathered as an offering to give to the Lord from this first battle. The spoils from later battles would be theirs. Trust and honor God first was a commandment that Achan struggled with that time.

After the battle at Jericho, Achan discovered a bar of gold, some beautiful pieces of silver, and a lovely garment. He knew that he should turn them in to the offering, but he could not wait for future spoils. Rather than honor God’s command, he kept those items for himself. Maybe he did not believe that God would give him what he wanted and needed in the battles to come. He decided not to trust God or honor God’s command. He had to have what he wanted now. He could not be content to wait.

Because of his disobedience and discontentment, God withdrew His protection from the people of Israel until they repented. In the next battle, they fought against the small village of Ai. The Israelites were defeated and many men lost their lives. God held Achan responsible for this. God led Joshua to bring judgment upon Achan and his family. Their sin cost the lives of innocent soldiers, so God had Achan and his family put to death.

God has promised to supply our every need. He has a plan for that provision, but He requires us to honor Him first. “Keep your life free from the love of money; and be content with what you have: for He has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” Hebrews 13:5.

Taste Test:

How hard is it for you to wait? Are you a child and can hardly wait until you are a teen? Or maybe as a teen, you can’t wait until you are old enough to be considered an adult with its privileges? Discontentment robs us of the moment.

  • Make a list of ‘wants’ that you have for the future when you get to the next ‘stage’ in life. (a car to drive, a girl/boyfriend, a secure job, college, a certain income) Interview an older Christian who has gone through many stages of life.
  • Ask if they experienced any dangers or blessings by waiting or not waiting on God.
  • Ask if they trusted God for their provision in areas where you have listed your wants.
  • How did it work out for them?

Scraping the Plate:

  • Read 1 Timothy 6:7-10. Allow the idea of verses 9- 10 to sink in.
  • Discuss the reason some fell away from the faith and have experienced many sorrows.
  • Compare that with Paul’s encouragement to Timothy in verses 17-19.

Country Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes:

We can trust that God has our best interest in mind and He has a plan to fulfill our needs. Contentment is a benefit of the security we possess as we walk in obedience to His commands.

Steve Baker has served in ministry for over thirty-five years and is currently finishing his masters in divinity. With his heart for discipleship, he has worked as a senior pastor, associate pastor, teacher, coach, and hospice chaplain. In 2010, God called him and his wife, Joyce, to help launch a University-Model school. He is currently the Principal of Summit Christian Academy in Boerne, Texas. Steve has a passion for families and mentoring believers to walk in this world humbly and boldly as warriors sharing the powerful message of the gospel to all people.

Empower Your Child, And Yourself, With A Quality Support System

The last five days have been unusual. It’s been hard to choose a blog topic because there’s so much I could write about. If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen that my journey from Fort Worth to Mt Vernon, Ohio, to speak at two banquets for a pregnancy resource center was quite an adventure. Rather than flying to Columbus, Ohio, from Atlanta, I drove from Atlanta. Rather than arriving at 5:00 pm Wednesday night, I arrived ten minutes before the banquet began at 6:00 pm Thursday night.

After finally arriving, I enjoyed my time with the people from Knox Starting Point Pregnancy Resource Center. I then drove to Cincinnati for my nephew’s wedding. As I’m writing this blog on Sunday, I’m on my way to Minot, North Dakota, to speak at a Christian school. The adventure continues. My flight is delayed.

I’m not going to blog about all the frustrations. Remembering them won’t do anyone any good. Rather, what did I realize or observe?

I’m more convinced than ever that it’s absolutely necessary to have a quality support system. I hope you have one and if you don’t, I hope that you will take a risk, prioritize the quality of your life, and reach out to a few people. Ask them if they’ll be there for you in a time of need. Develop healthy, vulnerable relationships.

Do your children have a support system? Do they know who to turn to when they have questions? When they’re scared? When they are unsure of themselves? When they have practical needs? Do they know that you’ll be there for them whenever they need you?

Helping your children in this way and empowering them to ask for help may be among the most important things you do. They must know it doesn’t make them weak to need help. They must know it’s okay if they need someone to talk to when they’re scared or confused or frustrated.

I was in line at the Atlanta airport for three hours to try to rebook a flight to Columbus before everything was canceled and I had to rent a car. There were thousands of us stuck there because of the weather situation.

If I had not had the prayer support of many from Facebook and the support of staff, family, and friends I could text and call, I wouldn’t have handled it as well. I was overwhelmed even though I am used to traveling. I was more frustrated than I’ve been in a long time.

If the woman who hired me to speak at the banquets had not been available to me to help me think through options, it also would’ve been a much more challenging time. She stayed awake much longer than she intended to that night, checked into rental cars for me, and the next day stayed on hold with the airline for over an hour trying to find information about my suitcase. She and her staff then problem solved in a most unusual away so that my suitcase arrived in Mount Vernon before I did. They blessed me.

I observed the whole team support me and each other throughout my days there. You can support with simply physical presence. A smile at the right time. A question to help. A pat on the back and other forms of affirmation. Suggestions offered with humility. What else can you think of?

At my nephew’s wedding, there were many examples of support systems. Their wedding coordinator, the photographer and his team, the caterer, the DJ, and others Andy and Steph chose to serve them did their jobs well.

Family and friends who came from near and far were a support system. During the wedding ceremony, the pastor asked if we would support them. At one point in the ceremony, the groomsmen and bridesmaids surrounded Andy and Steph and prayed for them. It was a beautiful picture of the most important support system of all – a vibrant relationship with God and others that empowers us to pray to God on their behalf.

How does all of this make you feel? What are you thinking? Are you satisfied with support systems you have? If so, praise God! If not, I hope you may choose to reach out so you’re ready in a time of need. Ask God to show Himself faithful so you’ll be more encouraged to lean on Him.

Become A Lie Detector!

Become a lie detector. Don’t do it so you can punish liars. Do it so you can speak truth and impart knowledge. The quality of their lives may depend on it.

This is important for confusion and inaccuracies like 2+2=5. But, there are more important reasons to be a lie detector.

This is important for lies you hear children tell about others. Maybe they think someone is “always mean” after one negative encounter. Maybe they think a teacher is “unfair” when the grade they received they actually did earn and the teacher was being fair.

Can you think of recent examples of lies like these that are relevant to your children? Correcting their thinking matters because their beliefs about people influence how they relate to the people.

Especially be a lie detector for lies children tell about themselves. Because identity controls behavior, they can’t afford to not be honest with themselves.

  • Children who think they’re shy when they’re really not may avoid all group activities. Maybe they just had one or a few negative experiences with people.
  • Children who think they’re not creative because of one comment from one teacher or peer may stop believing in their ability.
  • Children who decide they’re clumsy because they trip once may trip again because identity controls behavior. Maybe they were just in a hurry that time.

Think about your children and lies they may believe. Some may be much more serious than my above examples. Here’s what I especially want you to understand:

If you hear your children lie to themselves about themselves and you don’t correct them, and they know you heard them, they’ll think you agree. That can cement the lie.

  • If you hear your son say, “I’m so stupid!” you might respond, “What? I disagree. What makes you think so?” Listen to see if he was careless, didn’t study, didn’t do well on something quite challenging, and the like. Reframe his understanding: “You’re not stupid. You got a few answers wrong on a very challenging test. Don’t lie to yourself.”
  • If you hear your daughter say, “I can’t make friends” you might respond, “I’m sad for you because that’s probably scary. Is it really true that you can’t make friends? Tell me what’s going on.” You might discover one or two girls she thinks of as friends ignored her and she thinks it’s her fault. Or maybe she talked to someone new who didn’t immediately appear friendly. Talk her though this so she realizes she can make friends, but there aren’t guarantees.
  • If you hear your son say, “I can’t play sports” or something along those lines and you know it’s based on one experience, talk up. “Wait, I don’t think that’s true at all. Let’s name sports you do play. And, just because today you didn’t play all that well doesn’t mean you can’t play better. Would you like to practice?”

Again, be a lie detector! Speak truth. Impart knowledge. Increase your child’s quality of life.

The Importance Of Reality And The Dreams That Fuel A Child’s Heart

The gymnasium was full of high school students. They filled both sides of the bleachers from the first row to the last and all the way from one end of the gym to the other. There were also hundreds of students in chairs on the floor in front of me.

I was as ready as I could be with a message to encourage them. As I shared, I included Scripture relevant to God creating us on purpose with purpose for purpose:

“O Lord, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.”

(Isaiah 64:8)

“For You created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

(Psalm 139:13-14)

“For we are God’s handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

I was impressed from the very beginning with the students’ attention and quick responses. They were eager to be encouraged and challenged.

When sharing elements of my story and how I believe God created me to glorify Him, I kept asking them about their dreams. “What’s your story?”

I wanted students to think about who they were designed to be and what they were created to do. I challenged them to be realistic and to persevere and be diligent to achieve the dreams they could.

I then heard myself say something that until that day I had only said when speaking to parents and teachers:

Grieve what isn’t, accept what is, and work on what you can.

It’s absolutely appropriate and even essential that children dream about their future. It becomes a problem when their dreams aren’t realistic. To keep trying for something that can never be will only lead to frustration, deep depression, and possibly despair.

Although dreams have many positive facets, I believe they’re relevant to suicide in at least three ways. That’s why I’m including the topic in my programs more and more:

  • If teens’ dreams aren’t realistic and they don’t have a “plan B” discouragement defeats them.
  • If teens’ dreams are realistic, but they don’t have the skills and/or character qualities necessary to accomplish them, anger creates danger (As we say at Celebrate Kids, “wishing it so won’t make it so.”)
  • If parents have dreams that teens don’t have for themselves or that teens don’t believe they can reach, pressure persuades them to give up and give in.

Walt Disney was right about a lot of things, but not everything.

  • He said, “Dreams are forever.” I believe, “We should dream forever.”
  • He said, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.” I believe, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing in yourself, you’ll think of new dreams.”
  • He said, “If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.” I believe, “If you can dream it, you may be able to do it. Many great things start with dreams.”

At the conclusion of my chapel, many students hung out with me. I loved chatting with them and hearing about some of their dreams. After a while, I noticed a girl on my left approach me with a notebook and a pen. She waited and then took advantage of silence: “You said something about grieving our dreams and accepting what’s going on. I needed that. I loved the way you said it. Do you remember?” Before I could give her the three statements, many in the crowd agreed with her that it was valuable to them, too.

Grieve what isn’t, accept what is, and work on what you can.

Our teens need parents and others who dream realistic dreams for them and explain how they can fulfill them. Teens need people to teach them how to make the dreams come true.

Teens need parents and others who help them realize when dreams aren’t realistic. Teens need people to walk with them through the disappointment and to give them permission to grieve the loss of dreams. Teens need people who help them move on.

Our teens need healthy role models – people who adjust their dreams and keep dreaming. People who don’t give up, but alter their course of action.

Who will you be? What will you do?

Teen Suicide Prevention Takes Engagement

Teen suicides have been on my mind again. They’re far too prevalent. Young people choose, for a variety of reasons, to end their lives. It’s a permanent decision they think is a solution. If they’re thinking at all.

If you’ve heard me speak, you probably know I’m also concerned for what I call:

  • Intellectual suicide – they give up thinking and studying because so much feels irrelevant and overwhelming. Trying and failing is too painful.
  • Social suicide – they give up on people and relationships because people can’t be trusted and can be mean. They’ve been rejected and hurt too often.
  • Emotional suicide – they give up feeling because there’s so much suffering and pain in the world and their world. Their heart hurts too often and too deep.
  • Spiritual suicide – they give up on God because Christians and the church have disappointed them. They may not have a proper biblical view of the God of the Bible. Having faith and hope doesn’t seem possible any more.
  • Physical suicide – death that may begin with self-harm and other unhealthy decisions.

Parents, teachers, pastors, friends, and community leaders who know teenagers can prevent suicide. How? We can help them process pain well. We can guard their hearts and minds to prevent pain. We can ask better questions. We can answer their questions. We can share our feelings. We can accept their feelings. We can guide them toward truth. We can invest. We can.

Preventing suicide starts with knowing teenagers.

  • What do they believe? Why?
  • How do they feel? Why?
  • What are their dreams? Why?
  • What concerns them? Why?
  • What are they passionate about? Why?
  • What problems would they like to help solve? Why?
  • What talents and gifts do they have that will help them meet other people’s needs?
  • What needs do they have that they wish someone would help them with?
  • Who would they love to be friends with?
  • Who do they think is supportive?
  • Do they know how to ask for help?

Every type of suicide is preventable. We must invest.

Knowing teens starts with knowing children. We must pay attention to our children. What ticks them off and turns them on? What are their dreams? Who do they wish they could become? Do they know what’s realistic? How to change what frustrates them? How to change their attitudes toward the things they can’t change? How to find support? How to ask for help?

If we don’t care about our children, but think we can wait until they’re preteens and teens, we can’t. If we don’t start asking questions until they’re older, they’ll resent our apathy and absence and not help us parent them well. They may not let us know them.

Beliefs that drive young people to suicide often creep up. They start as small issues for small children. They look like minor frustrations. If not dealt with, these small issues grow as children grow. Pay attention to the intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual areas. What do they need?

Teens will have fewer problems when we parent well when they’re children and they’ll have more confidence solving the problems they do have. We can be available to answer their questions. We can be available to help them process their feelings. We can model wisdom before them. We can.

Let’s parent and teach to prevent intellectual suicide, social suicide, emotional suicide, and spiritual suicide. This can prevent physical suicide. What will you do today?

Simply, Jesus

Recently a friend of mine lost her job. I’ve called and texted to encourage her. To do something different, I decided to color a picture for her. You may know that I color as a way of relaxing and I typically use what I color like a greeting card.

On Saturday I looked through the books I have to find a picture that I believed would be appropriate for my friend. Several had Bible verses that were relevant, but I kept coming back to the one that simply said, Jesus.

That’s the one I ultimately colored and gave her. I prayed as I colored, that she’d keep her eyes on Jesus during these days and weeks as she has the rest of her life. I prayed He proves Himself faithful as He has on so many other occasions. She didn’t need a reminder of a verse or a character quality of God’s she knows.

Just Jesus. Yesterday I worshiped with hundreds of others, singing about His name being above all of other names. There’s power in His name. Love. Authority. Healing. Deliverance. So much more.