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Look Beyond Yourself

Children out of control these days? We know a little about that. Is it just the age? Or are we doing a terrible job parenting? Do we need to be more strict or more lenient? Do we need to take them to counseling or give them a severe punishment? I sure wish we had the answers. Right now, raising a preteen daughter is giving us a run for our money.

A friend is dealing with the challenges of raising a teenager. That kid used to be the sweetest, cutest, smartest, most loveable little ball of energy you ever met. The report I hear today is that he doesn't want anyone to talk to him, doesn't want to take a shower, is falling behind in his school work, and those tender, loving feelings aren't so easy these days. His mama is fit to be tied. As we discussed it, I started thinking back to my own teenage years.

Shoot! I was a giant pain in my parents' backsides. I felt irritated just by the presence of my parents. For a while as a preteen, I couldn't seem to get my hair clean, no matter how much I washed it. My once perfect grades floundered. I screamed at my parents, dug my nails into my sister, and regularly lied. Why did I lie? I didn't know. Maybe my active imagination needed an outlet? Maybe I was just a stinker. I was actively mean to my sister. Yes, MEAN.

One day I changed, though. There's a clear line in my mind when I think about that time in my life. Before and after. What caused the change? I'm so glad you asked!

I went on a missions trip with my youth group to Mexico.

I left for Mexico as an entitled, bratty, irritated girl. In Mexico, I experienced an entirely different way of life. I saw city blocks full of "housing" for families made up almost entirely of corrugated metal sheeting, somehow attached to make partitions that didn't go all the way to the floor. The floor was dirt. I believe the roof was also metal sheets. In Mexico! It was so hot, they probably got burned if they touched their own walls. They slept on pallets within their partitioned off area, which I recall as no more than maybe 5' x 8', if that. Chickens roamed, children shouted, and I don't recall any parents.

We were led into one of these "homes" to pray for a sick child. I couldn't believe how he slept on the floor with no privacy at all - able to see into the homes of everyone else on their block and everyone able to see him.

I was horrified, but they weren't. Those children were the sweetest, most joyful and pleasant children I'd ever met. They gave ME a gift! They had absolutely nothing and they still found a way to give something to me. I looked around and saw all of the children shouting joyfully as they ran and played with one another, as happy as could be in their rags with gaunt, dirty faces.

We stayed in an orphanage and worked with the children. The orphanage provided food, and I couldn't stomach it. I barely ate anything, but one day they had goat cheese. I was hungry, so I tried it. Delicious! Some of the other kids wouldn't eat theirs, so I collected all the uneaten portions and gobbled them up. I don't remember eating much else on that trip.

We had a worship service on the final night of the trip in which the power of the Holy Spirit fell on me. Sincere repentance consumed me. Clearly seeing myself for who I was, I wept with shame. I apologized to my sister and promised to treat her better. I apologized to girls in the youth group I hadn't treated well. I repented for the lying and screaming. That night, my heart changed. When I returned home, I stopped lying, stopped screaming, stopped treating my sister meanly, and thanked God for everything He'd given me.

It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I'm sure the transformation wasn't perfect, but I honestly don't remember screaming at anyone about anything for another 13 years. Then, in the middle of some sort of a fast, I got irrationally angry at my brother for eating pizza in front of me and lost my mind. Awesome, huh? My relationship with my sister was never quite the same. I'd done serious damage, and she's never adored me again like she did when we were younger. But we're very good friends today and we can acknowledge those years without too much difficulty.

My point is that I had a serious change in perspective and it lasted long enough that it changed me. If your teenager is out of control, a missions trip to an impoverished area might be just the thing! My husband's worldview was shaped by his many missions trips to Guatemala. It made him into a person with rich character and deep convictions. I mean, even Prince Harry settled down when he started doing humanitarian work in impoverished areas.

When our children are a little older, we plan to take them to Guatemala to see the place that's so important to their daddy. They're growing up in a very comfortable world and even though we try not to give them everything they want, they have a lot. We want them to understand everyone doesn't live this way. We can do that here in our area too, and now that we're out of survival-mode, I think it's time we get started.

I've begun talking to my children about how privileged we are, explaining that access to the internet isn't something this GenXer grew up with. Their grandparents didn't grow up with color televisions with endless channels. Their great-grandparents didn't grow up with indoor plumbing. A lot has changed in 100 years.

While we'd like to think that technology will just keep getting better and our lives will become increasingly more convenient, we aren't entitled to it. There's value in learning how things were done before we had electricity and machines to do everything for us. There may come a day when all that's taken away from us and it never hurts to be prepared.

One way to deal with entitled, attitude-challenged children is to change their perspective by helping them look beyond themselves. One way to deal with our own entitled attitudes is to change your own perspective and look beyond yourself. If you're local, I know of a homeless shelter always in need of help. If you're not local and a third-world mission trip isn't in the cards, how about volunteering as a family with the local soup kitchen?

Is your child the class bully? How about volunteering as a family at your local Down syndrome association? Or driving around the city on a cold night and passing out warm blankets and individual servings of hot soup and coffee? A shift in perspective really can change everything.


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