Restoration

During Spring Break, I was able to work with a group of middle school, high school, and college students as they prayed and did service projects for neighbors around our church building. It was amazing to watch.

These young people chose to spend their week off of school serving others. 3800 homes in our community were prayed over. Over 80 service projects were completed. Relationships were initiated or strengthened.

And this year, we had a new element: a group from Brazil came and worked with us. Our students did their best to learn Portuguese and be able to communicate better. They listened well and patiently as English was translated into Portuguese. There were even times when no translation was necessary. Even though the words were not understood, the spirit of the message was. And worship was incredible. The following is a short video of one song we sung in two languages:

It is amazing to witness young people pour out their hearts in worship. It is so much fun to watch them enjoy working for others. And it is great beyond words to see them welcome the stranger.

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This past weekend, I was able to spend time with a group of high school guys for our annual Man Retreat. The purpose of this weekend is to explore what it means to be a man of God. Different men from different walks of life come and share their knowledge and experience. This year, a panel of women spoke about growing up into men of God. There is a lot of time for fun and relaxation, but there is also time of service and worship. It is a great weekend.

And the best part is: it is planned by the high school students themselves. They name the speakers they want to hear from. They come up with the topics and questions. They decide what volunteer service projects they want to do. They lead the worship.

This group of teenagers has already figured out the messages they are getting from the world around them are not good enough; many of the messages are outright lies. And they recognize that. They know something is not right and they are seeking to find better answers. There is a wisdom present that far exceeds their relatively young experience.

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At this point in my sobriety journey, the temptation is not so much using again. The temptation is to despair. To be cynical. To see the bad in everything.

It doesn’t lead me to want to drink, but it does lead me to want to believe life sucks and it’s not going to get any better.

And then I see a group of high school guys buying flowers and delivering them (along with hugs) to a woman grieving the loss of her mother.

And then I see a group of teenage men and women holding hands with strangers and praying.

And then a group of teenage guys tell me they want to be children of God and not just blindly accept what popular culture says about manhood.

And then I worship by listening to a song sung in a different language.

I learned early on in sobriety that I was not going to be able to thrive or even survive on my own. But for so long, I thought that just meant I would be relying on other recovering addicts—and I have relied on them to my benefit.

But what I am learning more and more is that the help I need sometimes transcends addiction and recovery. Sometimes, the help I need comes from young women and men who are willing to devote their lives to something they believe is greater than themselves.

They restore my faith.

In my drinking, I turned to alcohol to cover over all the bad that existed. If I was too sad, or too happy, or too troubled, or too bored, or too awake…I would drink. I would cover over my reality with alcohol.

In my sobriety, I turn to cynicism. I cover over all the good that exists with sarcastic reminders of how bad everything can be. I watch the news and the literal theater that politics has become and I truly think all hope is lost.

And there is a lot of help I can receive in a 12 step group, but my soul is restored when I spend time with these young people. They remind me that life is much larger than myself. They show me there is reason to have hope. They teach me what joy can come from service. They know how to have fun.

Some days, I need to be restored. Thank God for the young people who do exactly that.

Overcoming Loneliness?

Sometimes, I am a really bad person.

Especially when it comes to dates: birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions. Now, there are some I always remember. My wife’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, our children’s birthdays are among those dates I always remember and do something special.

But I have four older brothers. I know all of their birthdays. But I often forget to call and rarely send a card. I know that my Mom’s birthday is one of two days in October; I can just never remember which one. My Dad’s birthday is so close to Father’s Day that I always just say, “Happy Birthday,” on that Sunday in June and figure I am covered.

My nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives all have birthdays. One every year. I think my wife remembers them. If I am friends with them on facebook I get the reminder on the actual date.

Now, my ability to remember special days for my family members is in no way related to the amount of time I spend thinking about them. I think of them often. When I see certain pictures or hear certain phrases or smell certain aromas memories come flooding back. I think about and love my family and my friends.

But I suck when it comes to actually telling them that.

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This past weekend, I was among a group of adults who spent some time with 18 high school students. We gave them the opportunity to share some of their struggles as well as important milestones in their lives. When it came to the struggles, one word popped up in almost everyone’s story: lonely.

As a parent, I observe the groups my children spend time with. At church, we are involved with the youth group. I am constantly amazed at the intelligence, wisdom, service, and maturity of this group. They are not perfect, but they are probably the greatest group of teenagers I have ever been around.

And some of them are more popular than others. Some always have a smile on their face. Some are always involved in all the activities and always have friends around them doing the same things.

And these were the ones who were saying they felt lonely.

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Loneliness is hard because it causes us to isolate from the very people who can help us the most because they relate to us so well.

Lonely people need to know other people are experiencing loneliness, too. Lonely people need to know they are not, well, alone.

Lonely has nothing to do with popularity.

Lonely can’t be overcome by continually asking, “Is everything okay?”

Lonely is not remedied with a formula; a one-size-fits-all cure; a uniform procedure.

Overcoming lonely starts with the admission, “I am lonely.” And it’s a long road from that admission to feeling better. But every journey, no matter how long, has a starting point.

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So what does my shortcoming as a relative have to do with loneliness?

How often am I around people I care for deeply but fail to say something?

How often do I look at somebody in the same room as me but do not take time to check in with them because I figure I will see them next week?

How often do I see someone with a smile on their face and just assume that everything is okay?

How often do I see someone in a crowd and assume they are doing all right since they have so many friends?

I have experienced loneliness before. I know that it is a jumbled mix of wanting to be left alone and wanting everyone to care enough to notice and say something. I know that people who are lonely want to find that one person they can talk to but they are afraid to speak up to anybody. I know that lonely people can find themselves in the midst of a large group of people and hide how they are feeling on the inside.

And I know that in my darkest moments of loneliness, I can approach the one or two people who have consistently expressed care and concern without seeming pushy.

So maybe, just maybe, if I want to be that type of person who can help others overcome their loneliness, I need to show some care and concern and interest in their lives.

It’s great that I think about how much I love my brothers. Maybe it would be better if I told them.

It’s great that when I look at people in the church auditorium I say a prayer for them. Maybe it would be better if voiced the prayer over them so they heard it.

It’s great that I genuinely care for people. Maybe it would be better if I showed it by remembering the things that are important to them.

As I said, the remedy for loneliness is not going to be the same for everyone. And in large part, the lonely person has to make a huge first step in reaching out and asking for help. But there must be people available to hear that call. We must make ourselves available to people so they will know who they can turn to when life is at its darkest.

And we can’t wait until people are in the grips of loneliness and despair before we begin to act. We help overcome (and prevent) loneliness by being people who genuinely care for and are interested in other people. We help lonely people by our willingness to consistently speak truth and encouragement into the lives of others.

It makes me sad to think that people I care for deeply may experience loneliness and ask themselves if anyone actually cares. It also makes me sad to acknowledge that I have not done enough to speak my love and care into their lives.

But that can change. I will do my part. I hope you will, too.

Open Letter of Apology to Teenagers

I shared this last year after a weekend retreat with the male high school students. I learned a lot that weekend. Mostly, I learned that we as adults are not doing a good job of listening to our kids. Let’s make a commitment to listen. And change.

Dear teenagers,

On behalf of adults everywhere, I want to apologize.

We have made your lives too busy. We remember our high school experience and the experiences of all of our friends and family members. And we want you to live all of it. We want you to be involved in sports, theater, afterschool programs, volunteer projects, church groups, and get certified in CPR. We have pushed and pushed and pushed until your schedules are way too full. We have made you feel like failures when you cannot keep up. We have encouraged you to choose activities over your spiritual life. We think your commitment to your sports team is more important than your commitment to your spiritual development.

We have made you so busy, you are not sleeping well and you are not eating well. We encourage you to eat quickly so you microwave a dinner or grab a value meal from a fast food restaurant. If you eat at all. You are tired and unhealthy and we push you even harder. We are pushing too hard and we are sorry.

We are also sorry that we have cared more about test scores and college admission than we have about education. We have grown up and become teachers and administrators. We have looked for more bottom line results to show that we are doing an effective job. We have been emphasizing the importance of getting high scores on achievement tests, SATs, and ACTs. We have failed to realize how stressed out you are about taking these tests.

We are in the position of voting people in, campaigning for what is important, and being involved in your education. We have become lazy and done little more than complain. And as we have stood by you have been falling deeper and deeper into your anxiety. We are sorry.

We are sorry that we have underestimated you. You are intelligent, caring, and passionate for justice in the world. But we treat you like you are little more than wound up balls of hormones. Yes, you are struggling with temptation and yes, you are struggling with physical, mental, and emotional development. But you also know that you want people to be treated fairly. You want people to be treated with respect and equality.

You may face the temptation to look at pornography, but deep down you know how terrible it is for people, especially women, to be degraded that way. And you feel you cannot talk to us about it because we have hidden all of our struggles from you. We pretend we have it all together and we hold you to such unimaginably high expectations that we have left no space for you to feel like you can ask for help.

You have been fighting and fighting and fighting to do the right things, but we have not supported you the way we should have. Now, you are self-harming, using drugs, and being medicated for anxiety or depression in astronomical numbers.

And it is our fault.

We are sorry. We want to start listening. We want to start helping. So please keep talking. Please talk to us even when it seems like we aren’t listening. Because we probably aren’t. But we need to. So talk to us until we listen.

Tell us how tired you are. Tell us how committed you are to fighting for justice. Tell us how much you thirst for knowledge. Tell us how much you want to explore and question spirituality.

Tell us what we need to hear.

Tell us until we listen.

Because listening is the best way we can show you we are sorry.

Signed,

Adults

Open Letter of Apology From Adults to Teenagers

Dear teenagers,

On behalf of adults everywhere, I want to apologize.

We have made your lives too busy. We remember our high school experience and the experiences of all of our friends and family members. And we want you to live all of it. We want you to be involved in sports, theater, afterschool programs, volunteer projects, church groups, and get certified in CPR. We have pushed and pushed and pushed until your schedules are way too full. We have made you feel like failures when you cannot keep up. We have encouraged you to choose activities over your spiritual life. We think your commitment to your sports team is more important than your commitment to your spiritual development.

We have made you so busy, you are not sleeping well and you are not eating well. We encourage you to eat quickly so you microwave a dinner or grab a value meal from a fast food restaurant. If you eat at all. You are tired and unhealthy and we push you even harder. We are pushing too hard and we are sorry.

We are also sorry that we have cared more about test scores and college admission than we have about education. We have grown up and become teachers and administrators. We have looked for more bottom line results to show that we are doing an effective job. We have been emphasizing the importance of getting high scores on achievement tests, SATs, and ACTs. We have failed to realize how stressed out you are about taking these tests.

We are in the position of voting people in, campaigning for what is important, and being involved in your education. We have become lazy and done little more than complain. And as we have stood by you have been falling deeper and deeper into your anxiety. We are sorry.

We are sorry that we have underestimated you. You are intelligent, caring, and passionate for justice in the world. But we treat you like you are little more than wound up balls of hormones. Yes, you are struggling with temptation and yes, you are struggling with physical, mental, and emotional development. But you also know that you want people to be treated fairly. You want people to be treated with respect and equality.

You may face the temptation to look at pornography, but deep down you know how terrible it is for people, especially women, to be degraded that way. And you feel you cannot talk to us about it because we have hidden all of our struggles from you. We pretend we have it all together and we hold you to such unimaginably high expectations that we have left no space for you to feel like you can ask for help.

You have been fighting and fighting and fighting to do the right things, but we have not supported you the way we should have. Now, you are self-harming, using drugs, and being medicated for anxiety or depression in astronomical numbers.

And it is our fault.

We are sorry. We want to start listening. We want to start helping. So please keep talking. Please talk to us even when it seems like we aren’t listening. Because we probably aren’t. But we need to. So talk to us until we listen.

Tell us how tired you are. Tell us how committed you are to fighting for justice. Tell us how much you thirst for knowledge. Tell us how much you want to explore and question spirituality.

Tell us what we need to hear.

Tell us until we listen.

Because listening is the best way we can show you we are sorry.

Signed,

Adults