13 Reasons Why You Need to Talk to Your Children

Steeped in controversy, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has brought greater awareness to teen issues such as bullying, depression and suicide.  It’s raw.  It’s violent.  It’s difficult to watch.  But it’s real and the reality of what many teenagers go through on a daily basis.  Long before it became a series, I read the book, “13 Reasons Why.”  And yes, I did watch the series with my daughter (who was 19 at the time), which sparked some great conversation.

Regardless of how you feel about the series, it was my past naivete that leads me now to face these types of hard topics head on.  Our family’s personal experience with some of the same issues addressed in this series doesn’t allow for me to ignore the painful truth.  Yes, even for a semi-functional family.  A two-parent family.  A loving family.  A church family.

Whether you choose to watch it or not, alone or with your child, I implore you to consider 13 reasons why you need to talk to your children about these types of difficult topics.

  1. What we think is minuscule could be monumental to your child.

I’ve always joked that my daughter was a drama queen, or when she was younger that she was sensitive.  Emerging into the teen years, I oftentimes made the mistake of dismissing her “end-of-the-world” events with it “just being her.”  Yet the reality is that some of those events were truly traumatic to her.  The more I poo-pooed them, the less she shared.  As a result, she suffered silently.  Our wake-up call came when she overdosed, which thankfully she recovered from. But it taught me a painful lesson on not recognizing the importance of taking her hurts to heart.

2. Bullying is real and it’s harsher that we might imagine.

Bullying has reached new levels, compared to when I was a child.  And we can easily miss cues that it’s become an issue for our child.  I naively believed that my daughter’s middle school years were smooth sailing.  It wasn’t until she was in high school that I discovered just how painful that time was in her life.  None of my children have been spared from some form of bullying.  And it didn’t just happen at school…it happened in the church.  It extends to an online world, in which you can’t seem to escape the bullying.  Pictures, posts, snap chats, Tweets, and comments can follow a child around ruthlessly.

3. Everyone reacts differently to bullying.

The way someone responds to taunts, name-calling, or harassment depends on so many different factors.  Some people seem to handle it better than others.  Certainly, the answer is never to end one’s life.  Yet we can’t dismiss the deep hurt that some feel, to the point where it feels like there is no other option.  Because of this, we need to be available to our children so they can talk to us if there are issues of bullying.

4. Our children need to understand the impact of suicide. 

Some felt the Netflix series glamorized suicide.  In some ways I can understand why, but it also depicted the deep pain and anguish felt by the main character’s parents, friends, and yes, even her enemies.  Suicide is a very uncomfortable topic but it’s so important.  My daughter (thank God) was able to see the effects of her overdose on our family.  This isn’t always the case.

5. We need to understand the climate our teenagers face on a daily basis.

At one point in the series I turned to my daughter and asked, “Is this really what school is like?”  It seemed almost too vulgar to believe.  Yet she confirmed that it was indeed what she had experienced.  Our children face a daily barrage of foul language, unkindness, gossip and backstabbing.   While we’d like to believe they’re untainted, it’s safe to say they’re affected to one degree or another.  And let me assure you, it takes place in both public and private schools.  It’s naïve to believe that our children aren’t affected by a school’s climate.

6. The sexualization of females (yes, in middle and high school) is real.

Slut-shaming, crude remarks and sexual assault are realities that females face everywhere—even in school.  Evaluated by looks, body parts and how far one goes…is an unfortunate part of this sinful world.  Being taken advantage of, emotionally or physically, can significantly impact a person’s mental health.  This type of behavior should never be downplayed.  And when we see teenage girls posing in provocative or suggestive pictures online, let’s pray for them.  Most are confused and have falsely come to believe that their worth is tied up in how they look.  We need to have open and honest conversations with not only our daughters but sons when it comes to the sexualization of females.

7. Our children need to know the value of a true friendship.

I don’t want to spoil the story-line for those who may not have watched this series, but I have to say it’s extremely sad the main character missed the opportunity for a true friend.  She had one, even though she partly blamed that person for her death…the reality is that this individual genuinely cared for her.  Trust is a real issue in friendships, especially for teenagers.  One minute someone claims to be your best friend and the next, they stab you in the back.  While these events are painful, they reveal if someone is a true friend.  Our children need to know that a crowd of friends who will dump you in a second can never replace the worth of one good friend who is there for a lifetime.

8. A bad reputation isn’t always built on truth.

A bad reputation is hard to recover from.  Once gossip spreads about someone, it’s really hard to take it back—kind of like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube.  It’s messy and nearly impossible.  While we can create our own bad reputations, sometimes they’re built on lies.  It’s extremely painful to be known for something that you’re not.  This is a good reminder to our teens that what they say about someone could result in long-lasting damage.

9. Even with the best intentions, we can miss the mark.

Another issue that critics had with this series is how the guidance counselor failed to help the main character.  I don’t know if the intent was to throw professionals under the bus.  Yet the reality is that teachers and others can fail to see a need.  Even her parents missed the mark.  No one could have ever convinced me several years ago that I would find myself sitting in a room at Children’s Hospital, with no privacy, because my daughter was there on suicide watch.  Or that I would have to fight to get her out of a mental institution.  I’ve always had the best intentions for my daughter but clearly, somewhere along the way, I missed something.  It’s important to acknowledge this reality—not to place us on a guilt trip, but as a reminder of our imperfections and God’s perfect grace.

10. We can’t blame everyone around us for the way we respond to our feelings.

Critics have also brought up the way the main character blames everyone for her decision to end her life.  It’s a reminder that we must take personal responsibility for the way we react to our feelings.  We can feel angry, hurt and frustrated about what others do.  It’s what we do with those feelings that rests squarely on our shoulders.  When someone decides to end their life, it’s on that person.  It’s a choice.  A terrible, heartbreaking, permanent choice that cannot be undone.

11. Pain is temporary. Death is forever.

Watching my daughter suffer through some pretty painful experiences were the hardest times of my life.  In the moment, it feels like the pain will never end.  Our children need to know that it doesn’t last…but death, oh, there is no coming back from it.  We need to share with our children those moments in our own life when it felt like the pain would never end.  They are not alone in that thinking.  They need to know that God will see them through because He has a wonderful future awaiting them.

12. Suicide is grisly.

Unlike other scenes where the cutting of wrists looks like a simple slice and then you just relax and stop breathing…the scene in “13 Reasons Why” was graphic.  It was bloody.  Death was slow.  It was very difficult to watch.

Suicide isn’t romantic.  It’s also not the answer to life’s problems.  While it’s not an easy topic to discuss, it’s critical we talk to our children about it.

13. God has entrusted these children to you.

Our responsibility to parent goes beyond providing shelter, food and clothes.  We have a holy obligation to point our children to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  The spiritual implications of this cannot be underestimated.  The devil wants to do everything he can to thwart your efforts.  He will use all means of doing this—depression, eating disorders, self-harm, pornography, sexual immorality, drug addiction, alcoholism and the list goes on.

We can’t talk to our children if we’re wrapped up in our own world.  With our eyes fixed on our phones, computers and television sets.  We need to purpose to set aside time to talk with them.  We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and deal with the hard stuff of life.

Don’t be lax in the reality that there’s a battle waging for their souls.  Mom, Dad…YOU are their champion!  You are their warrior!  You are their safe place.  Do not ignore or make light of this role.  It could make an eternal difference…

 

Trials Will Show Your Inner Strength

Trials sometimes expose the parts of us that need work, but they can also reveal strength we never knew we had.  This has probably been truest for me in the years my son has served overseas, sometimes in hostile environments.  The worries, the separation, the inability to help him during difficult times were just some of the challenges I faced as a military mom.

Oftentimes we don’t know what we’re made of until we find ourselves in the fire.  We may come out a little burned but we still make it out.

The greater dependency we have on God, the stronger we’ll be.  Anything we try to muster up on our own is sure to be short-lived.  God is our everlasting strength.  He will carry us through; but we have to be willing participants in the process.

Psalm 121 gives us some insight on how to do this.  In verse 1 it says:  I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? 

Lift your eyes up.  Take the focus off your problem and put it on the Problem Solver.

Verse 2 is a great reminder of where our strength comes from:  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Honestly, feeling helpless is the best place to be in the midst of a trial.  You come to understand that God is our only help in times of trouble.

The road might feel treacherous but verse 3 says:  He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber.”

Whether you recognize it or not…regardless if you feel His presence or not…God is always watching over you.  He will hold you steady in the midst of the trial.

Your inner strength is birthed out of an intimate, growing relationship with the Lord.  It’s what gets you to this place of declaration:

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.

My heart leaps for joy,

And with my song I praise Him.

(Psalm 28:7)

You might also like:

Embracing God’s Will in the Midst of a Trial

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

How to Deal with Trials in Life

A Misunderstanding of Sacrifice

I thought I understood sacrifice those sleepless nights I was nursing a newborn or comforting a child woken up by a bad dream.  I thought I knew the meaning of sacrifice by braving the cold and rain to watch my child play football or reading the same story five times in a row.  I thought I got the meaning of sacrifice when I spent my own birthday money on a toy for my child or gave up a career to stay home when my children were young.

Sacrificing my time, sometimes my sanity, and most definitely my wants.

I had a misunderstanding of sacrifice that I wouldn’t come to realize until the later years.  When my role as a mom would change because now they’re adults and I have to bite my tongue just to keep the peace.  When I would have to push aside my need to rescue and allow my children to make mistakes.

Sacrificial parenting is a way of surrendering what I think or want and trusting God with the outcome.  It’s giving up my need to be right or to have my say so that a relationship can stay intact.

It’s hard.  Oh, is it hard.  The heartache it can cause is indescribable.  But so is the wonder in seeing how God can turn an entire situation around or give you glimpses of good in the midst of difficulty.  It’s a reminder that my sacrifice is nothing compared to God’s, who gave up His own Son so that we might have eternal life.

The more I reflect on His sacrifice, the less I focus on myself.  The more I surrender, the greater my faith.  Like Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his son—literally—God will provide my “ram.”  The way that points to God’s faithfulness in each and every one of my children’s lives.

Sacrifice is less about giving up something and more about entrusting everything to God.  It’s nothing about me and everything about Him.

 

Embracing God’s Will in the Midst of a Trial

One of the more difficult things to embrace in the midst of a trial is when God’s plan is completely different than your own, or it doesn’t seem to make sense.  Yet the sooner we welcome His will, the better equipped we’ll be to deal with the process of the trial.

When our family fought a custody battle for our granddaughter that lasted over a year, we experienced quite a few obstacles.  I would say I wanted God’s will done…but my reaction to what that sometimes meant demonstrated otherwise.  The truth was that I wanted God’s will to be done but it had to line up with what I thought was best.

A friend in my prayer group directed me to a song called “Even If” by MercyMe.  I could relate to so much of it—how I was losing bad (as others with wrong motives seemed to win) and how sometimes God would leave mountains unmovable (we just couldn’t seem to get breakthrough).  Yet the plea is that no matter what, our hope would remain in God alone.  That we could say all is well with our soul.  Yes, God can do anything—but even if He doesn’t, will we find the strength to embrace His will?

I won’t pretend this is easy.  I fought it with heels digging in and with a great deal of anger.  How could wrong get rewarded and doing right bring pain?

I’m convinced the trial lasted as long as it did because I fought it for so long.  My stubbornness and what I believed was right became greater than my faith in God.  He loved me enough to keep me in that place until my eyes were finally opened and I came to the realization that He was everything I needed.

Once God broke me (because that was what needed to happen), the focus became seeking Him for the strength to accept His will.  And one day, in the most unexpected and unexplainable manner, everything changed for good.  A hopeless situation became a miracle.  I learned that fighting against God’s will gets you nowhere.  Embracing His will grows our faith and draws us closer to Him.

If you’re going through a particularly difficult trial, take time to listen to this song “Even If.”  Let it minister to your heart and soul and know that even if God doesn’t change a thing, He is our only hope in this world.

You might also like:

Trials Expose What Lies Beneath the Surface

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

The Mistakes Made When Someone Is In a Trial

How to Deal with Trials in Life

When You Just Can’t Snap Out of It

Last week’s post, “The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church” definitely struck a chord in others.  If you could only visualize the internal anguish I felt about writing on this topic.  The feedback I’ve received was worth it.  It’s clearly a subject that needs more attention.

Our moods can be impacted by stressful life events, genetics, hormones, medical conditions, substances (alcohol, drugs, medication) and more.  Pinpointing the cause of depression is sometimes easy and sometimes not.  The one thing I can say for sure is that when it does strike, the person suffering can’t control how he feels.

I’ve been that person who essentially says, “Why can’t you just snap out of it?”  But I’ve also been on the other end, when it’s been asked of me.  If only it were that easy.  Just think happy thoughts—unicorns and rainbows.  Or in the circle of believers, just pray and then you’ll snap out of it.

The reality is that depression can have a vice-like grip on your emotions and thoughts.  Its hold can be so powerful that it seems like an unbreakable barrier between you and God.  No amount of prayer, Bible reading or worship music will make it go away.  In other words, you can’t just snap out of it.

No one wants to feel this way.  The individual isn’t choosing to be depressed.  And yet so often, the “just snap out of it” mantra comes across as the solution.  But if that’s not the answer…then what is?

When you just can’t snap out of it, know that it’s hold over you can be broken.  Psalm 42:11, “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Putting your hope in God takes the responsibility off your shoulders to just “snap out of it.”  You can’t manufacture a content spirit and you certainly can’t will yourself to feel joy.  But when we put our hope in God, we are essentially giving it all to Him.  We know that we’re unable but He is more than able.

Hope that you are loved by God.  Hope that just as He has come through for you in past difficulties, so will He now.  Hope that He is working out the perfect ending to this temporary twist in your story.

You discipline yourself to hope by praying…even when it feels like you’re talking to a wall.  You read the Word…even when it makes no impact.  You listen to uplifting music…even when it stirs nothing inside.  These are disciplines that over time will most definitely make a positive difference and help break the chain of depression.

But there are other ways we can find hope—for some, it may mean medication (short or long term).  It may require seeking professional counseling.  Or asking your closest friends to help pray you through.

There’s usually not a quick, easy fix for depression.  Even telling someone to have hope in God sounds so trite.  King David is a prime example of someone who experienced many stressful events in his life.  Yet he verbalized his hope in God.  He spoke it out loud.  He reminded himself of God’s faithfulness.  He declared that his faith was in a trustworthy God.  His circumstances didn’t always change.  But it was hope that enabled him to break free from the chains of depression.

Hope is not a magical key to happiness.  But it is the source in finding strength to get through the battle.  Hope is what carries us out of the valley of despair.  Hope is what brings us peace.  Hope is what breaks the bonds of depression and fills us with joy.

 

Trials Expose What Lies Beneath the Surface

Trials are quite revealing.  They get below the surface level of our faith to the deepest parts of our soul.  This is where fears, mistrust, anxieties and other hidden issues finally get exposed.  Trials peel away the Christian mask to unveil who we really are—not what we’ve portrayed to others or even what we’ve tried to convince ourselves is the person inside.

There was a period of time in which I felt pretty secure in my Christian walk.  My faith remained intact, despite some challenges that had come my way.  And then…well, let’s just say one particular trial seemed to resurface a part of me I had thought was long buried.

You see, there were some issues that I’d never fully dealt with, which were lying below the surface—waiting for just the right opportunity.  Only those closest to me got to see the awful effects of it.

It’s painful and embarrassing to reflect on this time.  There is nothing pleasurable about exposure.  It puts us in a very vulnerable position.  Yet this is where the real work can be done in us, as God begins to peel away the layers.  Exposure isn’t about embarrassment, it’s about getting to the core of our heart, mind and soul.

We can pretend with others—maybe even fool a few.  We can try to convince ourselves that everything is good.  But God will use whatever means necessary to expose those parts of us that need refining.  It’s the only way I can make sense out of James, when he tells us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2).

Not joy for the trial itself…but joy because it means our faith is being tested.   It’s the only way we can grow as a person and in our relationship with God.

Don’t be afraid of exposure that leads to greater growth.  Revealing what’s hidden is the only way to be changed from the inside out.

You might also like:

How to Deal with Trials in Life

The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

 

The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church

Mental health—it’s a touchy subject, one that has started to garner a lot of attention through the media but is mostly neglected through the church.  Yet even the media’s focus tends to center on the tragic events that involve someone who finally “loses it” in a violent act.  We don’t hear much about the ordinary, everyday people who are dealing with mental illness.

There is a stigma attached to issues of mental health in the church.  I have heard a wide range of questionable thoughts and opinions.  For instance, some say that depression is a lack of faith.  I’ve also heard there is no such thing as a generational curse of mental illness because Christ set us free.

I’m not diminishing the necessity for strong faith or living in the freedom of Christ.  Yet it doesn’t negate the very real struggle that some believers go through.  And it is no different than someone suffering from physical health issues.

In all honesty, it’s a topic that makes me uncomfortable, so writing this post isn’t exactly “my thing.”  But this is an issue that I strongly believe needs a voice—and not just because it affects me on a personal level—I know there are others out there who have felt the stigma.  Those who have felt shame or embarrassment or even outright denial of the struggle.

It’s not possible to cover everything in one post.  So, it’s probably safe to say that this won’t be my last.  But I wanted to at least open up the conversation.  I would guess that almost every reader knows someone who struggles with mental health or has fought their own demons with it.

Know that first, mental illness is not a sign of weak faith.   Depression was something that King David struggled with—if you don’t believe me, read the Psalms.  Or remember Elijah, who at one point was so depressed he was ready to give up…even asking God to take his life.  I believe that our greatest faith comes from the lowest points in life, the moments of desperation and when we feel the most unable.  Because it’s then we see the power of God move on our behalf…whether that means healing or strength to face the battle.

Second, mental illness can be a generational curse.  Just as diabetes or breast cancer might run in a family, so can schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  My family has a long history of mental illness.  My acceptance of Jesus doesn’t erase this truth.  But it does empower me to break the hold it’s had over us.

It’s an important topic…especially among believers.  Not just to draw attention to it but to point the way to the One who has the answers.

Psalm 42:5 “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

 

Dealing with trials is part of life.  We can’t outrun or outsmart them.  We can’t even be a “good enough” Christian to avoid them.  What we can do is remain faithful to God…no matter how hard the road before us, no matter how uncertain things seem or how painful it becomes.

Easy?  Hardly.  Heck, we oftentimes blame God in the first place!

When everything is going right in our life, it’s easy to stay faithful.  But what happens when everything is going wrong?  Or the worse thing we could ever imagine happens?  What if our greatest fears come to pass?  Or a difficult season stretches on for weeks, months or even years?

I almost always think about Job of the Old Testament.  He lost everything that mattered to him.  It’s one thing to have empty pockets and a broken body…but to have all of your children die?  Even the loss of just one I cannot imagine.  And so, I have to ask myself, would I be able to remain faithful if I were in Job’s shoes?  I would like to be able to say yes, that I would…however, I really don’t know.

I know it’s not the Sunday School answer.  But it’s my honest answer.

I’ve been mad at God plenty of times.  Even if I haven’t blamed Him for circumstances, I’ve been sure to remind Him of the power He has to change them.  I might have lost my way and my faith may have been teetering on the edge, but I never fully turned my back on God.  The good news is that even I had, He would welcome me back with open arms.

Deep down inside we know He is the answer to our trials.  And even if He chose not to do anything about what we’re going through, He is the one who will carry us through.

Life is full of unfair events, tragic loss and disappointments.  We have little control over much of what happens.  But we can determine there is no better place to run to, than His arms of comfort.

After all…

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (NIV)

 

You might also like:  The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

There Is Only One Perfect Father

My dad’s early part of life was pretty rough…which in turn made mine a bit bumpy.  As a child, he was a victim of abuse in more than one way.  When he was old enough, he joined the Air Force and went to Vietnam, where he served on the front lines. He witnessed and participated in some pretty horrific things.

When he came home, he struggled with alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (it would be the 80’s before we’d start to hear about this form of mental illness).  By then he was married to my mother and was not only raising me, but my aunt.  My mother’s much younger sister came to live with us when my maternal grandfather killed my maternal grandmother.  Eventually my sister came along.

We were poor and mostly lived in bad areas of the city.  There was a lot of fighting and violence in the home.  It was not the ideal upbringing and although I legitimately have every reason to focus on the imperfect parts of my father, I choose instead to remember there is only one perfect Father.

My dad left my mom right after my husband and I had our first child.  It was devastating.  Eventually my dad remarried a much younger woman, who had three children around the ages of 10 and 11.  Suddenly I had to embrace this new family.  It wasn’t easy.  It seemed his new wife got the better of him.  Her children benefited from his improved financial position.  They got to enjoy things, and a side of my dad, that I never did.

My dad changed as he got older.  We became closer and I got to experience the more loving side of him.  He enjoyed being a grandpa to my three children and warmly embraced my husband as his own son.   The latter part of my life with him was much better.  And I got to hold his hand as he took his very last breath just over two years ago.

My dad wasn’t perfect.  No dad is perfect—even the most loving, available and caring one.  I believe with all my heart that he parented the best way he could.  It’s easy to blame our parents for the wrongs in our life or to make excuses for our bitterness because of what we experienced.  Perhaps God’s expectations are a little lower than ours.

I don’t know your story…what type of father you were brought up by, or even if your father has been around for you.  I don’t know about your disappointments or the rejection you felt.  You may not have a single bad thing to say about your dad.  Regardless, he is (was) imperfect.

God’s perfection is what enables us to forgive and see past our own pain to better understand someone else’s pain.  It doesn’t diminish the hard times we’ve gone through.  But what’s the point of having a perfect Father if we can’t enjoy the benefits of it?

It’s His perfect love that enables us to love.

It’s His perfect love that allows us to show grace.

It’s His perfect love that helps us to trust again.

It’s His perfect love that enables us to remember we’ve all sinned and fallen short.

May this Father’s Day be a time of healing…of self-reflection…of determination to forgive…of recognition there is only ONE perfect Father!